Archive for June, 2013

Before Midnight

Friday, June 28th, 2013—Film

Before Midnight (USA 2013, Drama), Writers: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke; Director: Richard Linklater

Before Midnight is the third installment of the ongoing love story between American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy). First was 1995’s Before Sunrise, in which the characters meet at age 23 and spend a blissful night wandering the streets of Vienna, talking endlessly and falling in love.

Then, in 2004’s Before Sunset, the couple reconnects for the first time since Vienna. They spend an evening wandering the streets of Paris, talking, of course, and discovering that Celine never found true love, Jesse is unhappily married (with a young son), and they probably shouldn’t have parted nine years ago.

Now, in Before Midnight, Jesse and Celine are 41 years old, living together in Paris and raising their twin daughters. We catch them at the tail end of a summer holiday in Greece. Jesse’s 14-year-old son has just returned to Chicago, where he lives with his mother, and it quickly becomes clear, through more witty and winding conversation, that married life (or at least common-law marriage) has tested the strength of Jesse and Celine’s commitment to one another.

All the Before films have their charms and merits, and feature exceptional writing, acting and cinematography. But each one is more substantial than the last, and with good reason. The first is about falling in love; it should be the most frothy and fun. The second is about deciding whether to give the relationship a go. And the third is about trying to make good on that decision.

It makes sense that Before Midnight is the one that sticks with you the longest and packs the biggest punch. Eighteen years in, and with more than one night’s memories to build on, Jesse and Celine’s story is weighted down by much more baggage, but it’s richer because of it.

There are moments in each of the movies that carried over for me through the years. In Before Sunrise, there’s Jesse and Celine’s make-believe phone call in a restaurant, or Delpy’s perfectly delivered performance at the pinball machine, when Celine steals the conversation while staying totally focused on her game.

In Before Sunset, the ending sealed the deal for me. It was so leading and provocative, you didn’t need to see what was coming next. The film faded out on a fabulous note of anticipation.

In Before Midnight, it’s the lengthy conversation in a hotel room that left a lasting impression. The scene plays like a microcosm of Jesse and Celine’s relationship. They take turns dodging and tackling feelings of comfort, love, resentment, inadequacy, verbally waltzing through the bitter and the sweet and back again in the space of minutes, sometimes only even seconds. It’s an incredibly poignant look at married life, and so real and fluid that you almost forget you’re watching a performance.

I don’t know of any other films, or even television shows, that present live-action characters over the span of 18 years. It’s very special to be able to see these snapshots of Jesse and Celine’s life, presented in near-real time and taken as the actors age. It creates the magical sense that these characters really exist; that, rather than catching a movie, you’re actually catching up with old friends you don’t see often enough. (There’s even that trippy encounter you had several years back in Linklater’s rotoscoped wonder, Waking Life.) The Before experience is even more special given that the snapshots are so well executed.

Like its predecessors, Before Midnight has a hopeful but open-ended finish. Perhaps nine more years down the road, we’ll be treated to another day, or night, or few hours, in the lives of Jesse and Celine. Here’s hoping.

*            *            *

For GC.


Sunday, June 9th, 2013—Film

Mud (USA 2012, Drama), Writer/Director: Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols has done it again. The writer-director’s latest creation, Mud, is as beautifully shot and soulfully written as his last feature, Take Shelter, which I absolutely loved. And although the two films’ plots are quite different, their territory is familiar; with Mud, Nichols again explores ideas of perception, and how our experiences and belief systems inform our take on reality.

Mud has also been found (by many a reviewer) to share turf with the works of Mark Twain—in particular, the escapes and escapades of two adventuresome young boys, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The movie is about 14-year-olds Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who go exploring in their boat and come upon a fugitive living on an island on the Mississippi River.

The fugitive’s name is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), and that fact, along with his disheveled look (complete with snaggletooth and hand-knotted hair) and freewheeling lifestyle (he sleeps in a boat lodged in a tree), not to mention his whimsical, childlike quality, almost make you wonder at first whether the character is imagined by the two boys. Mud certainly matches them—and Ellis in particular—in his raw emotion and fierce stubbornness.

You wouldn’t blame Ellis if he had constructed such a character. The boy’s life seems to be sinking beneath him, as he faces his parents’ separation and an impending move to the city, away from his beloved home on the river.

Ellis is also discovering girls. He’s got his eye on an older high schooler named May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). And no matter how careless she is with his heart, it seems to belong irrevocably to her. Love and romance are lifelines for Ellis, and as he gets hit by a wave of change, he clings desperately to them.

So when Ellis learns that Mud’s crimes were committed in the name of love for his sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), he does everything he can to reunite the pair, even if it means butting heads (or fists and heads) with the bounty hunters who are hot on Mud’s trail. Neckbone, of course, comes along for the boat ride.

Mud is a special film that paints fairytale and coming of age with a slightly sinister brush. Its darker hues and fantastical tones remind me of several other great movies about children at odds with growing up: Where the Wild Things Are, Moonrise Kingdom, Winter’s Bone and even Son of Rambow.

The film is full of gorgeous imagery (flowing down the river; slowing long enough to linger on scrambling spiders or sun-streaked plants) and golden nuggets of truth and humour.

It’s also buoyed by exceptional performances. In particular: Sheridan, who debuted in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life; Lofland, in his first movie role; and McConaughey, who uses Mud to further his habit of delivering ever-better performances.

I saw the film with two good friends, LG and TG. As we were leaving the theatre, TG asked whether Take Shelter depicted women as negatively as did Mud. I was too tired to get into it at the time, but I’ll say now that I don’t think Mud ultimately does portray women in a poor light. Ellis’ mother is revealed to be the stronger, more responsible parent. Juniper is redeemed. And although May Pearl is no gem, we see glimmers of brighter treasures to be found.

In the end, Mud suggests the promise of greatness—in love, but also in adventure, discovery and friendship. Ellis is left with hope, and so are we.