"MAYBE WE'RE ONLY GOOD at brief encounters walking around in European cities in warm climates," Celine (Julie Delpy) says to Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in 2004's Before Sunset.
There were moments in Richard Linklater's follow-up film Before Midnight when I found myself agreeing with that sentiment. When they were in their 20s, Celine and Jesse had a whirlwind, one-night romance in Vienna (Before Sunrise); nine years later, bruised and a little wiser, they reunited in Paris, rekindling the spark of their first meeting (Before Sunset). Before Midnight leaps nine more years into the future, finding the couple in a troubled long-term relationship that's facing some major life changes.
The climate is plenty warm on the Greek island where Celine and Jesse are vacationing with their twin daughters, but brevity is in short supply. The couple finds themselves at a crossroads: Jesse wants to be closer to his now-teenaged son, who lives in Chicago with his estranged wife; Celine is considering a new job in Paris, and she goes entirely off the rails at the mere suggestion that they relocate to the US, leading the couple to an intense, night-long interrogation of the very foundations of their relationship.
All of Linklater's films are talky, but there's a sense in Sunrise and Sunset that the characters' constant, tireless conversation is helping them feel their way toward each other, and toward their true feelings. It's quite the opposite in Before Midnight: If anything, all the jibber-jabber is muddling things up, obscuring how Celine and Jesse really feel about each other. The emotional core of Before Midnight is buried deeper than in the two previous films, and it takes longer to locate amid the endless talk. (It can be frustrating: Jesse and Celine might be getting sick of each other, but we haven't so much as seen them kiss since 1995.) That core is there, though, and—thanks to our nearly two decades of history with these characters—when Jesse and Celine really dig down into their true feelings, it resonates stronger than ever.