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Berlin Film Festival 2013: 'Before Midnight' review

★★★★☆
American director Richard Linklater returns to the tale of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) that he began seventeen years ago in Before Sunrise (1995) with 2013's Before Midnight. Set nine years after the events of Before Sunset (2004), this is an eloquently scripted dissection of a now middle-aged couple's relationship. Reflective in tone, we open to Jesse reluctantly sending his son back to the States, before heading off to an idyllic Greek villa he and his wife have been staying in. The glowing couple appear happy, with Jesse writing yet another novel, Céline starting a new job in Paris and twin gold-ringleted daughters of their own.

Jesse, however, is keen to move back to America to spend more time with his son, causing most of the friction throughout this talkative drama. They soak up the sun at remote, preparing meals, Jesse writes and, when he isn't putting pen to paper, he talks with Céline about their favourite subject of conversation - namely, themselves. Whilst this could be read as inane ego-tripping, the couple's debates flow out with effortless elegance, covering everything from gender politics to theorems on life and death, at the same time fitting in plenty of time for humorous, acerbic bickering.

Before Midnight cinematographer Christos Voudouris captures the sun-soaked backdrop to such a sumptuous level that you wish you could walk through the screen, giving you plenty to feast your eyes upon as the couple chatter away on a lengthy car journey scene, meander through rough cobbled streets or sit and drink by the water's edge. There's also no getting away from the fact that very little actually happens. As an audience, we voyeuristically lap up the deliciously funny and honest (if sometimes overly pretentious) debates as the couple are "wandering around bullshitting" (as Jesse puts it). There's also great a homely comfort to be found in seeing this couple finally together, with it rarely becoming tiresome.

Linklater, who co-wrote the script with his two stars, has made sure that what happens on screen is as natural as possible - and has succeeded in his efforts. Yet the juiciest parts of the film's screenplay are to be found in the prickly, snapping arguments that take place after the lovebirds have flown the villa for a romantic break away from the kids. The carefully-crafted dialogue rolls out, organically moving from wide topics of conversation. Yet they are continually unable to escape themselves as the main subject matter, with their dialogue orbiting each other like the Earth does the Sun.

Within seconds, moments of comedy descend into emotive diatribes, producing statements from Delpy as to how women "explore for eternity in the garden of sacrifice", fluxing back to joke lines like how Sylvia Plath killed herself by shoving her head in a toaster (it's funnier in the movie), or her all too authentic impression of a bimbo blonde. Hawke is equally as impressive, coming across as an affected author, loving dad, and caring partner simultaneously. When all's said and done, Linklater's Before Midnight proves a fitting conclusion to a lovingly constructed trilogy of films.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh

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