Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is at a Greek airport with his son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) to put him on a plane back to his home in Chicago where his mother, Jesse's ex-wife, is waiting. He obviously doesn't wish his son to leave so is trying to make every moment with him last, though the boy doesn't show much emotion as he matter of factly joins the queue; there is something which his father latches onto as he goes, when he says this has been the best summer of his life. But maybe this has made Jesse's heart break a little when he watches his son disappear, and doesn't even look back or wave, knowing that he is not really seeing his son grow up as they live on different continents...
And why is that? Is it fair to blame the other woman for splitting up the relationship with his wife? That other woman is Celine (Julie Delpy), the love of Jesse's life, the romance which truly defines him, and is about to turn sour, tragically so for the fans of director Richard Linklater's Before trilogy when what they might have wanted to see, actually there was no might about it, what they definitely wanted to see was the couple getting on famously. They didn't get that here, not for the last third at least, as the first had them in conversation with each other and friends in a picturesque region of Greece, the second featured the walk and talk we were familiar with, but that finale was their Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the 21st Century.
Even though they had only spent the equivalent of a couple of movies worth in their company, these works had become such cult favourites that while you could recognise the three main talents involved - director and lead actors - wanted to shake things up a bit and not repeat themselves, that wasn't what everybody wanted to see. This made Before Midnight the most controversial of the series because nobody wants an ideal couple to find their love hitting the rocks, and Jesse and Celine's connection had been so profound that it was painful and deeply melancholy to watch them chip away at one another's defences, ostensibly in a jokey fashion initially, then end up taking a wrecking ball to them.
It was not as if you wanted to take a side, because you liked them both equally: for all their flaws, they had many good points too, yet this turn into darkness was probably necessary for in the dinner party scene the tone verged on the precious, with Jesse now a successful author of three novels and Celine considering a new job for an environmental group, and both parents to twins, though they have not tied the knot. That said, the theme of the passage of time and how it changes you or otherwise was well to the fore, sending the message that we may be part of a transient experience, but while it was happening it certainly felt significant in some way or another, and the bonds we forge whether through love or friendship were important to us.
So Jesse and Celine could accept they had grown apart after a good period of romance, and that was part of life, that change was the only constant, or they could try and make something last until the end of their time together, if only they could stop arguing and take a step back to try and understand what has driven such a wedge between them. The row seems to erupt out of nowhere seeing as how they have been getting along so well for most of the movie up to that stage, but as it progresses you can see Jesse's guilt over his son and Celine's unwillingness to play the stay at home mother is not as compatible as they - or you - would have hoped. Linklater and his stars, who know these characters so well that their joint scripting feels so uncomfortably real and raw, were really placing them under the microscope this time around, but made us aware that this was just one day and the path of their relationship could go either way. That there is a small ray of hope, provided by sweet humour, was just as sad and powerful as it would have been if it hadn't been there at all. Music by Graham Reynolds.
Skilled indie director, specialising in dialogue-driven comedy-drama. Linklater's 1989 debut Slacker was an unusual but well-realised portrait of disaffected 20-something life in his home town of Austin, Texas, while many consider Dazed and Confused, his warm but unsentimental snapshot of mid-70s youth culture, to be one of the best teen movies ever made. Linklater's first stab at the mainstream - comedy western The Newton Boys - was a disappointment, but Before Sunrise, SubUrbia, Tape and the animated Waking Life are all intelligent, intriguing pictures.