Linklater enthrals with artful eye in Before Midnight

Fans of that increasingly rare cinematic species - the dialogue-driven romance - will be pleased by the appearance of Before Midnight, the third in an all-talk series by Richard Linklater about an ever-evolving relationship between an American writer and a spirited Frenchwoman.

Linklater is an American director whose movies are imbued with a strong European aesthetic, with all of the texture that accompanies an arthouse production but none of the inconvenience that comes with subtitles.

Over the course of two decades and three films, he has had the luxury of developing (in real time) a long-running love story about characters who consider conversation to be the sexiest form of foreplay.

In Before Sunrise (1995), two strangers Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train and decide to spend an evening walking together and talking in Vienna. In Before Sunset (2004) they reconnect one afternoon in Paris and rekindle the mutual attraction from their earlier encounter. In this latest instalment, we discover how they now share life - with all its ups and downs - together as a committed couple.

As a sequel, Before Midnight serves up more of the same as its predecessors: extended scenes of people engaged in spirited, free-flowing discussion on a wide range of subjects. Diverse, seemingly random views are exchanged on love, friendship, career and the ephemeral nature - much like the sunrise and sunset - of life itself.

Jesse and Celine have finally hooked up and had children together, but they are also separated by differences - such as what to do about Jesse's desire to be physically closer to his son from his former marriage (Jesse has moved to Paris while his son lives in Chicago).

As the film begins, Jesse (now 41 with middle age encroaching) is sending son Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) off at an airport in Greece, where the family has spent the summer on holiday.

On the drive back to the seaside villa where Jesse has been involved in a writer's retreat, he describes a hypothetical situation which Celine interprets as a call for them to move to the US - thereby disregarding her own career prospects. It is the spark that sets off a running debate that lasts the entire movie. Along the way, they ruminate on the compromises each has made in order for the relationship to work.

The tone of the conversation - and the mood of the film - changes drastically after Jesse and Celine leave their kids in the villa with friends and move to a nearby hotel for what is meant to be a romantic evening.

It turns into something more troubling instead - something that may signal the end of their time together.

Before Midnight is a meandering, contemplative and deeply personal journey - an account of a relationship as seen through the lens of someone who has been there every step of the way. The screenplay, jointly written by Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, has an organic feel to it, and most of the dialogue seems painfully real. In the end, you won't envy Jesse or Celine, but you will be grateful that you were there to eavesdrop.

Rating: B-

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