Richard Linklater, 108 mins, 15

Jonathan Romney on Before Midnight: The love story is over. Let the rows begin …

4.00

Once upon a time, they 'met cute'. Now, two films later, things get ugly for Céline and Jesse

The old boy-meets-girl routine, it never grows stale – not at the box office. It's known in movie parlance as "meeting cute", and there was rarely a classier cinematic "meet cute" than Richard Linklater's 1995 film Before Sunrise: American boy Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French girl Céline (Julie Delpy) meet on a train, spend the day in Vienna, fall in love, then part at the day's end. They met again, in Paris, in 2004's Before Sunset, which ended with Jesse missing his plane home, leaving us convinced that true love would prevail over the dictates of international timetables.

And here are the couple again, still together in Before Midnight, only this time the mood is more sober. Directed again by Linklater, who has co-written it with Hawke and Delpy, Before Midnight is a stiff draught of reality, showing what remains of a cute meet after all the romcom popcorn has been swept up. Since we last met them, Jesse and Céline have been living in Paris, and have had twin daughters, while his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) lives in the US with Jesse's ex-wife. And Jesse has written two successful novels based on his encounters with Céline – This Time and That Time – although she's not entirely happy about being his muse. Right now, the couple and their girls are staying in the Peloponnese, at the home of expat novelist Patrick (veteran British cinematographer Walter Lassally). It's an idyllic setting for walking, talking and literate musing.

This is unapologetically a dialogue film. The couple talk at length as they drive, then while out strolling, and finally in a hotel room, where their seemingly stable relationship begins to unravel. There's also a sequence in which they and their friends sit at lunch shooting the breeze, and you realise exactly what Before Midnight is – a philosophical symposium in the Ancient Greek manner.

I was resistant during the film's first stretch. Olive groves, children playing in the sun, well-heeled literary types at play, Christos Voudouris's glowing photography – it all seemed within an inch of Woody Allen's recent ventures, although the relaxed energy of the ensemble acting is pithier. But Before Midnight takes off in the final act when, with the couple set for a night of tenderness away from the kids, suddenly all bets are off.

At this point, Before Midnight indisputably becomes Delpy's film. Overall, Hawke's Jesse comes across as a very average, hip but gauche American litterateur – charming, playful, somewhat self-indulgent, but not half as sharp as Céline. She does a brilliantly funny routine, pretending to be a fluttering bimbo stoking Jesse's ego – but it's when they get to the hotel that the depth of her resentment emerges. She attacks him on every front, no holds barred; there's not much a woman can say to a male writer that's much crueller than, "You're no Henry Miller – on any level."

Before Midnight isn't a romance at all but an out-and-out horror story about men being from Mars and women from Venus – or more drastically still, from America and France. What's curious is that pretty much every attack Céline makes – from claiming that Jesse's writing isn't a real job to asking who picks up the socks – comes across like a parody of the tropes of feminist anger within marriage. Meanwhile, Jesse keeps trying to swallow his pride and defuse the situation with humour and charm, often inadvisedly.

Now it may be that women and men will see the film differently, and Céline's arguments come across to female viewers as well-founded. But it seems that Céline is very deliberately set up by the film as "difficult", while Jesse is presented as merely immature. Yet presumably it was Delpy herself who wrote Céline's acerbic dialogue, and Hawke who wrote Jesse as an affable, if rather insipid, nice guy. So you can only imagine that Linklater stood back to let his two leads reveal – or caricature – themselves as they wished. At any rate, the more unlikeable Céline becomes, the more Delpy emerges as a vigorously intelligent player, and Hawke as an agreeable yeoman who's just about keeping up.

A caveat, then, for anyone expecting a sweet date movie, especially if watching with the person whose hand they first held through Before Sunrise. This is a severe view of love and its sustainability or otherwise, and it's hard to know exactly where the final scene leaves the couple. But you suspect Jesse will milk the relationship for a third novel – and it'll probably be called Last Time.

Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Arts and Entertainment
ArtHow Monet and Degas influenced a generation of American artists
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor