It felt only fitting on this first day of the new year to revisit the love story that has enchanted movie going audiences for nearly a generation is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand for its third and easily its most compelling installment in "Before Midnight" which has resulted in quite simply one of the best films of the calendar year that we just finished.
Nearly two decades after their meeting on that train to Vienna and nine years after the events of "Before Sunset" we find Celine and Jesse (Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke) on vacation in Greece with their twin daughters and Jesse's 13 year old son from his previous marriage. Jesse is slightly melancholic as he sees his son depart for Chicago while in Greece and wanting to be closer to his son he suggests that they all move to America while Celine thinks it is a bit of a rash idea and Jesse will calm down once the initial shock of separation is over. As a departing gift, their Greek friends offer to take care of the kids for an evening and give them both a night in a luxurious seaside hotel, as Jesse and Celine wander through the idyllic countryside doing what couples do we also see the struggle to maintain that dying flame of romance and passion in the face of parenting, everyday responsibility and years of tiny resentments that eventually build up in every single relationship. The only questions remains is do Celine and Jesse push on together or does their story end, separately.
This third installment is both the sweetest, darkest, most realistic and very easily the best of the bunch. This ode to the imperfection of relationships and of life is such a grand sweeping narrative that even though the raw emotional nature of some moments are truly hard to watch, they are also incredibly rewarding all at the same time. Linklater who again co-wrote the film with his stars Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke gives us a firsthand tour as they navigate us through the complexities of the nature of not only their relationship, but relationships in general. Linklater shoots the stunning countryside in a near understated way that makes the audience not want to take our eyes off it even though it is so inconsequential to the crux of the narrative. With some very long camera takes, we are drawn into the relationship itself for better and for worse, feeling the ecstasy and the pain of it all in one fell swoop. Films like this have been done before, but they never work if the actors aren't up to the challenge and Delpy and Hawke do some of their best work to date in this stunning film.
As Celine and Jesse, both these actors bring this material to the next level making for some of the most griping and poignant entertainment that will be seen on screen this year. Mastering the second hand nuances of being in a couple comes through in such small yet powerful moments and through the uses of many long takes, we are placed directly in the awkward and painful ones as well. There was one particular use of nudity on Delpy's part that wasn't gratuitous, yet so powerful that was very reminiscent of a scene from the film "Short Cuts" where Julianne Moore was fighting with her spouse. Both Hawke (who is the midst of a bit of renaissance right now) and Delpy keep us engaged from minute one, we simply cannot look away.
Picture and sound on the Blu-Ray are top notch as expected, and the special features on the Blu-Ray include a feature length commentary track with writer/director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, there's also a behind the scenes featurette and a Q&A session from a festival screening with the director and stars of the film.
"Before Midnight" transitions the characters and the audience away from some of the more idyllic elements of the story while grounding us in cold, hard reality of life, and it's not depressing in anyway shape or form but it is that moment where the relationship grows up and evolves into something more. That place where the imperfections that we all hold in various ways, shapes and forms are OK. Long after the credits roll and people leave the theater, will we all be talking about how this perfect film about the imperfections of us all, just might be the best film of 2013.
5 out of 5 stars.