Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Before Midnight [2013]

MPAA (R) (4 Stars)  AVClub (A)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing (P. Villaça) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Before Midnight [2013] (directed and cowritten by Richard Linklater along with the film's costars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpi, characters by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan) is the third installment (once every nine years) of a lovely (though also honest) romance/soap that allows viewers to follow the lives of two people, one an American named Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) the other a French woman (at least in part of Hungarian ancestry) named Celine (played by Julie Delpi).

In the first installment named Before Sunrise [1995], the two met as young 20-somethings (as college students / recent graduates) on the train between Budapest and Vienna during the summer of presumably 1994 or 95.  Jesse was flying back to the States out of Vienna the next day, Celine was heading back to her studies at the Sorbonne in Paris after having visited her grandmother in Hungary.  Having made acquaintance in the train and then chatted away together quite happily in the meal-car for a good portion of the trip, when they arrive at the train station in Vienna Jesse takes a chance (young guys reading this take note, life rewards the brave ... ;-) and asking Celine if she'd like to get off the train and spend the evening walking around Vienna with him.  Since her passage to Paris was valid on any train and since their conversation had been fun, she agrees and they have truly a magical evening together, walking around, eating, drinking, and yes ... having sex together (outdoors in a park after finishing bottle of red wine, now lying at their side) at the end.  The next morning, saying goodbye on a platform at the Vienna train station, they choose not to exchange addresses/e-mails etc (because that would be "boring" and lead to eventual dissipation of magic of their time together) but promise that they'd meet six months hence (in December) on the same day and same time at the same spot at the Vienna train station to continue their time together.  And if it doesn't work out, well ... at least they had shared that previous night.

The second installment named Before Sunset [2004] takes place nine years later, in Paris.  Jesse's become a writer since and is on a book tour peddling his book about ... you guessed it, the magical night that the book's protagonist had spent with a young Parisian woman who he had met on a train traveling between Budapest and Vienna nine years before, with the two ending their night together with the promise of meeting at the same place at the same time six months hence.  And guess who shows up at the book signing ... Celine.  They strike-up a conversation and since Jesse had a couple of hours before he had to head to the airport to fly back to New York, they spend the afternoon chatting as they walk through the streets and cafes of Paris.

But it's been nine years.  So that's a lot of water under the Danube, Seine or Hudson.  Jesse's now a writer, Celine an activist of some sort working for a Paris-based NGO.  More to the point, the two didn't meet back in Vienna six months after their encounter in the summer of '94.  It turns out that Jesse had actually borrowed money from his dad and flown out there but Celine was actually at the funeral of her Hungarian grandmother (in Budapest, nearby but obviously not near enough...) on that very day at that very time.  Sigh ... This then sets up the rest of the story.  Let's face it, it's been 9 years.  So Jesse's married, with a 5 year old kid.  His wife is his old college girlfriend, with whom he went out, broke-up with, went out again, eventually got her pregnant ... and they got married. (Yes, this is something of a plot device to make the rest of this chapter of the story possible).  Celine for her part, has had several boyfriends, but nothing ever really stuck.  Her current boyfriend, a photojournalist, is attractive in good part because he's generally away (He provides her with the opportunity of telling others that she has a boyfriend without him actually being around).  But here they are, nine years after that magical night together Vienna, both having remembered that night quite fondly, he in a "second choice" marriage (but a marriage _with a kid_ nonetheless), she having had a number of blaise' relationships with nothing really sticking... and they're IN PARIS ...

So they walk around.  He keeps pushing back the time that he really needs to start heading to the airport.  They stop at her apartment.  He asks her to play "one of the stupid songs" that she's says she's written for the guitar.  She does.  It's lovely.  But then she says, "You know who I really like is an American jazz singer who sings out here in Paris..."  She proceeds to do a nice, sultry imitation of the American jazz singer's voice ... and finally, looking at the enraptured Jesse staring at her, brings this second chapter of their story to its end saying, "I have a feeling, you're not going to get on that plane ..."

Chapter three is the current film, Before Midnight [2013].  It's again nine years later and to film-makers/actors credit, the film begins squarely acknowledging the consequences resulting from the way the previous film had ended: This third film begins at an airport in Greece.  Jesse is putting his 14 year old son by his first wife, Hank (played by Seamus Davey Fitzpatrick), on the plane to fly back home to his mother in Chicago.  Hank had been able to spend two weeks with Jesse, Celine and their twin nine year old daughters Ella and Nina (played by Jennifer and Charlotte Prior respectively) on their vacation in Greece, but then had to go back.  For the sake of his kid (and perhaps out of respect for the pain that he had caused his wife by leaving her for Celine), Jesse's being kind in his words about his ex to his son.  But the son who is also being both kind and matter-of-fact as a fourteen year old from a broken marriage who nevertheless loves both of his parents would be ... reminds Jesse in the conversation that they have in front of the security check-point prior to Hank having to go to the gate to depart for Chicago of the obvious ... Jesse's ex-wife just hates him (to this day) for what he did to her and their son.

We're later reminded (and actually repeatedly...) by Celine of what she thought of Jesse's first wife and the hell that she had put them through during and after the divorce.  Apparently, Jesse's ex-wife had really taken him to the cleaners (well he did dump her for Celine...) and even if they had stayed in the States, which they did not, Jesse would have gotten only twice a month visitation rights (and two weeks in the summer) with Hank.  Then Celine got pregnant with the twins and wanted to go back to France to be near her mother through the pregnancy.  So the twins were born there and, voila' that's where they stayed afterwards.

So after dropping Hank off at the airport (and knowing that the 14-year-old was going to have to make at least one connection somewhere before getting on a flight that would take him the rest of the way back to Chicago), on the drive back to the nice vacation villa that Jesse-Celine, et al were sharing with friends on the Grecian coast, Jesse articulates partly (but partly not so partly...) in a rhetorical sense a desire to find some way to see more of his son again: "He's 14, he's just starting high school.  In four years he'll be done and that whole part of his life will be over.  And you don't get those years back..."

But Celine, who's been working all these years in various NGOs and had just been offered a non-inconsequential managerial job in a French governmental relief organization, makes it clear that she's about to give that opportunity up to go to ... "Chicago" ;-).

[Folks I write out of Chicago, and while Chicago isn't America's Paris, one could think of Chicago as America's Prague.  It is a beautiful city, the architectural capital of the United States.  It is a significant player in the art community.  Until recently largest annual art expo in the United States and even the Western hemisphere (with hundreds of galleries from all over the world represented) was held here (and may again return).  When it comes to performing arts, the two most significant film critics in the United States (Siskel and Ebert) wrote out Chicago, this is where Broadway tests its theatrical productions prior to putting them on in New York, and generations now of SNL comedians began here at Chicago's Second City Comedy Club.  Finally, while I do understand that it was "Rio de Janeiro's time" for the Olympics, by dissing Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics, the Prada/Christian Dior wearing both titled and entitled Mafia that runs the IOC (it's kinda amusing for Americans to realize that Chicago's Mayor Daley may have been too much of a "boy scout" when it came with his dealings with the IOC.  Even the Mormons of Salt Lake City knew better who they were dealing with ;-) did the world's tourists a huge disfavor by dissing us.  Our beaches along Lake Michigan (an inland FRESHWATER SEA) alone are an experience to behold: No icky salt to stick to your designer bikinis here folks.  And the water, in summer never as cold as the Pacific Ocean off the coast of LA, by August is ... just divine ;-)  Anyway, Celine you could do much worse than Chicago ... and who exactly do those NGO's that you've been working for seek to "help?" And do the people you "help" realize that you think of them as living in "hell holes?"]

Be all this as it may, Celine really doesn't want to go back to the "Chicago" of her imagination.  And so there it is.  And Celine even warns Jesse near the beginning of the film after he expressed his sighing desire that he'd like to find some way to spend more time with his son during the next few years, telling him: "This is how couples begin to break up.  Grudging compromises are made, resentments build ..."

And so the rest of the movie revolves around the question: "Can this relationship last?"  It began magically, was consummated (for real) rather scandalously and not without consequences.  Now can it last?  The dialogue often quite pained / angry is again, like in the previous two films, excellent.  It all makes for one heck of a film for folks in their forties...

How does it turn out?  Well go see the film ... ;-)

As a final note, what then would "The Church" say about this story?  After all, there are several more or less obvious "transgressions" in the couple's now three part story, some rather "gleefully" made...

Well anyone who's been in Pastoral ministry for any length of time would know that most, if not all couples, young and old, "have their stories."  And part of those stories are all kinds of disappointments and betrayals.  The question becomes, what do we do with them?  Do we dwell on the pain?

I also admit here that I find myself sympathizing more with Jesse more than Celine in this film.  Yes, it's probably partly because "I'm a man," perhaps even in part because I'm "a functionary with 'some power' in a Patriarchical Institution that clothes itself in the Blessing/Power of God."

But I have to admit that Celine's repeated comments about 'Chicago' (see above) kinda pissed me off ... and may reflect a kind of expectation of entitlement -- "I'm a Parisian.  Granted I'm the daughter of at least one Hungarian immigrant [Note that I who write this review am the Chicago-born child of two Czech immigrants and also had a beloved grandmother living in Prague who we used to visit as well as other relatives in the C.R. who we continue to be in relationship with ... and yes, thanks to the fall of the Berlin Wall and Central Europe's subsequent economic rise, sometimes our Czech relatives come here now, yes even to 'Chicago,' even as we continue to go there to Prague as we can...] but I (Celine) grew-up in 'Paris' and therefore I deserve to live in the elitist aura of said Paris even as I insist on striving for and holding important positions in organizations, both governmental and non, seeking to help poor sops living in 'Third World hell holes...'" -- That in my experience is both unrealistic and arguably misguided.  I personally would not want to be "helped" by people who did not respect me ... But honestly, as I write this, Celine's "arrogance" can also be seen as simply "part of the script ..." (In the other films, she's IMHO a far more sympathetic character).

Anyway, with or without God (and I continue to be convinced that life is much easier _with_ God than _without_ ...) all couples and indeed all people have to sort our their priorities.  And one would imagine that a couple with the means that Jesse and Celine clearly had could find a solution to their problem: "Chicago" or "Celine's dream job."  Off the top of my head ... Jesse a writer who traveled on book tours no doubt would be traveling from Paris to publishers in New York with some frequency (and Chicago is $250 and 2 hours by air from New York ...).  Further as a metropolis of 8-10 million, the third largest in the U.S. behind only New York and Los Angeles, as elsewhere largely college educated, there are actually "a book store or two" in Chicago to visit (on said book tours) and even a University or two (U of Chicago [!], Northwestern, even UIC as well as the Catholic universities of De Paul and Loyola at Chicago) as well.  So Jesse could probably find a way to "drop by" to visit his son a few times a year, even as Celine and their daughters lived on happily in Paris completely free (if they insisted...)  from the possibility that they could _also_ become fans of "da Bears" and "da Bulls" by virtue of having a half-brother/step-son living in the States... ;-) Where there's good will, a lot can be done, where there is not, all becomes really, really painful and hard ...

In any case though, even if at times this film is hard to watch due to the arguing ... the issues are real and certainly thought provoking that most couples by the time they reach their 30s or 40s would understand.  Good if at times painful job! ;-)

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