Monday, June 17, 2013

Scenes from a Marriage, Gen X style

Before Midnight is Richard Linklater’s third in a series about Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), after 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset. Now these would be lovers are a couple living in Paris but vacationing in Greece. Unlike the two previous films which were imbued with tantalizing romanticism, Before Midnight is a kind of Gen X version of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage (1973). Whether that was Linklater’s – and the two stars', who co-wrote the movie – intention, is a guess. Probably not but it sure comes out that way. In the previous films the two are romantically drawn to one another despite their very brief rendezvous (Vienna in the first film and Paris in the second) owing to travel constraints, mainly because Jesse, an American, had to get back to the States. Before Midnight doesn’t at all discuss how Jesse and Céline end up a couple – with two kids no less – nine years after their last meeting (each film is set nine years apart). But it’s easy to believe. The problem is that this film eschews romanticism for couple angst. Sure the Peloponnese peninsula makes for a lush and romantic setting but the romance has largely popped out of this relationship. And it’s too bad, since this is what we’d come to expect from Linklater’s three linked movies. The problem is that Céline feels taken for granted (heard that before) in a relationship where Jesse, author of two critically acclaimed books, is the star. She’s family-bound with the kids and picking up the socks while Jesse can philosophize with walks under the olive trees. Jesse protests of course. But he doesn’t sound too convincing. When Jesse says he wants to spend more time with son by first marriage Hank in Chicago Céline sees it as a way for him to get out of their relationship. And she balks at the idea of moving to any place as crass as the U.S. Midwest. Besides, her environmental career is at a critical juncture and she wants to join the government where she can really make a difference. (Any thought that Jesse may have been sacrificing for her? Just wondering.) This movie isn’t all dour. And to say it is isn’t to suggest it’s a poor movie. In fact it’s a very good movie. The acting – especially Delpy’s – is absolutely terrific. These are genuine-to-life scenes that are highly believable in tense, argumentative situations. As well, Linklater - known for his long shots – keeps them coming with several very long takes – terrific.

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