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Posts tagged ‘before midnight’

24
Feb

21 Years: Richard Linklater


21 Years: Richard Linklater (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

Richard Linklater has always been one of my favorite directors probably because his film, “Before Sunset,” made a big impression on me when at the time when I was still trying to figure out the kind of stories I would be willing to invest my time in. When that film ended, I remember feeling excited, maybe even inspired, because I had not seen anything quite like it.

Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood’s “21 Years: Richard Linklater” is an entertaining and informative documentary about Linklater’s films up to “Before Midnight” but because it attempts to cover as much ground as possible and as quickly as possible, it does not feel cohesive. In addition, some of the interviews come across as pandering rather than as a true celebration of an artist whose works helped to shape the landscape of independent cinema.

The picture is divided into sections. For example, “Daze and Confused” gets about ten to fifteen minutes of discussion. There are other instances, however, when two films are combined into one section like “The Newton Boys” and “Bernie.” Although the technique makes sense because the discussions aim to highlight Linklater’s fascination with lovable losers or criminals, the connections between such films are few.

Interviewees are performers such as Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey, and Ethan Hawke as well as directors that range from Mark Duplass to Jason Reitman. While there is no shortage of personality, eventually it begins to feel like the same people are being asked the same types of questions. While the energy in front of the camera is appreciated, one wonders about the other aspects of the director’s techniques. He is often labelled as having a very relaxed approach to making his films but how does that work necessarily when his projects are so different from one another?

The material is at its best when it provides information we do not already know. For instance, Jack Black admits that “School of Rock” is his first time really working with kids and he was concerned about having to do so. One might not have guessed that because his character has such a strong connection with the children. Also, I enjoyed moments when the documentary takes the time to underline important scenes in movies like “Before Sunrise,” particularly the scene where Jesse and Celine go inside a listening booth and genuinely connect in a place of quiet.

“21 Years: Richard Linklater” has a playfulness about it that is endearing but that same quality gets in the way at times. It needed to ask tougher questions, maybe even provide information about the subject growing up, his past and current influences, the challenges he had to overcome to create films that will stand the test of time. Overall, I liked the subject more than the film itself.

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25
Jan

Before Midnight


Before Midnight (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★

One would think that by stripping away some of the elements I admired most from its predecessors, “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” director Richard Linklater’s sublime portrait of two souls who met eighteen years ago would be less palatable. On the contrary, one might argue that “Before Midnight” is the most confident of them all, certainly the most mature, because it is able to break away from the expected and deliver more rewarding elements about the characters who we believe we already know.

An extensive fluid shot of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) strolling around a breathtaking European city while philosophizing, jesting, and yearning are gone. Instead, the picture is divided into five pieces: the airport, the ride to the market, the early dinner with their host and some friends, the walk to the hotel, and the big fight. Each scene builds on top of one another, the whole day of trial culminating in the last five minutes. When the camera begins to pull away from the couple, I knew it would not happen but I wished anyway that it would stay—even for only a minute more.

This is a work made for people who love to look at faces and carefully consider the thoughts behind them. Right away, we are thrusted into the mindset of Jesse as he fears that he is missing out on a lot by not always being around his son, Hank (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), who spent the summer with Jesse and Céline in Greece. He expresses his frustration—regarding the difficult situation with his ex-wife in Chicago mixed with the sadness and feelings of helplessness he harbors—by telling Céline that his son cannot even throw a baseball properly. Though the material is, on the surface, driven by words, the looks the characters give one another or us having the chance to catch a certain sparkle in their eyes when no one is looking at or paying attention to them convey a whole lot.

Céline and Jesse no longer look fresh. They once looked so ready to take on the world; now it seems as though they just want to avoid grasping at each other’s throats. I suspect the minute subtleties of the problems that they have in their marriage are lost on me for the time being, given where I am in my life currently, but the screenplay does an excellent job pulling in those of us who do not have a spouse and allowing us to consider how we might feel if our partner, for example, says something we do not want to hear or fail to say something—anything—when it counts most. The great thing about the story is that we know it began with friendship and so there is a history there we can grab onto.

The argument in the hotel room is one I will remember. When characters in the movies get into an argument, it comes off fake a lot of the time. Here, I felt like I was strapped in an uncomfortable chair in that room—problematic because when people argue, I like to leave when I am not involved. Jesse and Céline saying so many mean, unfair, accurate things toward one another took me back in time—back when I was a kid and I did not have yet the sense to walk away from a space of increasing negativity—times when my parents would start screaming at each other for whatever reason. I felt scared for Jesse and Céline’s relationship. I felt sad that for them because I sensed that the two of them constantly being around one another is an uphill battle. I wondered if they have come to the finish line. Or maybe they are just having a really bad day. I certainly hope so.

17
May

Before Sunset


Before Sunset (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is in Paris for the last stop of his book tour. As he is interviewed by reporters about his recently published novel and a possible plot for his next project, he notices Céline (Julie Delpy) standing a couple of feet to his right, the woman he met in the summer of ’94, the very person his book is based on. After the interview, Jesse approaches and invites his old friend for a cup of coffee. She happily accepts. In less than two hours, Jesse is due at the airport for his flight back to America.

Not one kiss is shared, not even a whiff of a sex scene, just a hug between a man and a woman who met in Vienna nine years ago and “Before Sunset” cements itself as a small but quintessential film about love, romance, friendship. It is appropriate that it is a more mature work than its predecessor, “Before Sunrise,” because its characters have grown a little older. Gone are their youthful verve and their willingness to impress but their yearning to find meaning in life remains.

Most immediately noticeable is Jesse and Céline dressing differently, less casual and more professional. They have jobs, they are in their own respective relationships, and they are no longer in school. It is easier for them to establish eye contact. Their hand gestures are more confident, used to draw someone in rather than to distract or to hide an insecurity. And yet without noticing how different the characters are compared to when they met as young, idealistic twenty-somethings, the film still works.

I should know. I saw “Before Sunset” for the first time without any knowledge of “Before Sunrise,” in high school, back when people still had to drive (or walk–as I did, rain or shine) to Blockbuster to rent movies and Wikipedia was not yet a common term. I was captivated. A movie that consists of two people holding a conversation for its entire duration was a novelty to me. No, I had not yet heard of “My Dinner with Andre” directed by Louis Malle.

The camera moves fluidly, matching the stream of consciousness nature of Céline and Jesse’s exchanges. They walk around Paris, giving the illusion that everything is happening of the moment, the background moving and changing with each step and corner they take. Most of the shots are from the waist up, a perfect middle-ground for capturing body language and facial expressions on an intimate level. They joke, they reminisce, they fight. There are times when the camera is placed from behind, welcoming a different place to be visited, a whole new arena for chatting about a multitude of topics.

The issues they talk about are bigger than themselves. While they have a tendency to philosophize at times, more emphasis is placed on different parts of the world, genuine problems like certain countries not having enough clean water for people to drink and a group of people looking for ways to transport pencils to a school a few miles away so children can get an education.They discuss Buddhism, marriage, as well as current and past relationships. They are full of contradictions and flaws which make them fascinating.

Some people think that the ending is sad because there is a suggestion that they may not end up together. To me, it is neither sad nor happy. It is… optimistic. The film ends with the two of them being in the same room, sharing something intimate and beautiful. Céline shares her apartment and talent in music. Meanwhile, Jesse is in complete captivation of her, the woman who got away. Just minutes prior, Jesse talks about his wife in the most generic way–“smart,” “a good mother.” We get the feeling that he does not look at his wife the way he looks at the French woman in front of him, dancing to a song by Nina Simone.

16
May

Before Sunrise


Before Sunrise (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Céline (Julie Delpy), on her way to Paris for school, sits across the aisle from a German couple whose argument is quickly escalating to an explosion so, for her own safety, she decides to get up and move toward the back of the train. She finds an empty seat across Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American on his way to Vienna. They strike a conversation, feel an almost immediate connection, and so they move to the lounge to share food, philosophies, and stories. Before they knew it, the train has arrived in Vienna but Jesse persuades Celine to get off the train with him, explore the city, and spend a few more hours together before his flight to America.

Romance pictures without glitz and glamour, unnecessary plot complications like mistaken identities, and a denouement that relies on the big question of whether the central couple will end up together after being torn apart for so long–sometimes more than once–are especially difficult to pull off. Compound it with a screenplay that focuses on two people sharing an extended conversation, “Before Sunrise,” written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan, proves to be a rarity. It is romantic and introspective but it leaves enough room to expand and challenge its characters’ life philosophies and perspectives–as well as our own. Though we do not speak to them, we are a part of their conversation.

The interaction between Céline and Jesse feels natural but the evolution in their mannerisms toward one another are not always obvious especially when one is comfortably ensconced in their words. A few minutes upon their meeting, Céline and Jesse do a lot of looking down, like many of us tend to do while trying to get familiar with a stranger, and using their hands as a way to relieve tension in their bodies and perhaps to distract the listener from analyzing the speaker’s words and point of view. In direct contrast after they have spoken to each other for hours, they tend to lean into each other more often as if to listen a little bit more closely, their hands not used to distract but to grab or caress, their eyes dare to be looked into rather than to be avoided.

The more Jesse and Céline get to know one another, the more we know them. Though Jesse may not be aware of it, Céline has courteous laugh which she often employs when he tries too hard to be funny or witty. Delpy commands attention when she smiles: some smiles are genuine and others are forced. We wonder what she really thinks about this guy who hopes so badly to impress her. On the other hand, there are instances when Jesse has the tendency to just nod in agreement at some of Céline’s points just so he can get a chance to speak and get to his two cents–sometimes a pseudo-intellectual idea and other times an idea that is actually worth rumination. We wonder about the extent in which he has fallen for her.

Vienna is a character, too. Just as Jesse and Céline adapt to each other’s responses, they are required to acclimatize to the city. When it gets too hot on the bus, a jacket is taken off mid-conversation. When the hustle and hustle of downtown gets too loud, their voices must be raised. When a stranger approaches them, they must choose whether to entertain or keep walking. When the camera offers shots of other people talking to one another, in a foreign language sans subtitles, we wonder if their conversations are as engaging.

Directed by Richard Linklater, although I have seen “Before Sunrise” more than half a dozen times, what I remember most are not the quaint places they visit or colorful people they encounter, but the feelings and the images that the characters paint using their words. Just when I think I am more like Céline, Jesse admits to how he still feels like a thirteen-year-old boy who does not know how to be an adult. He has to pretend that he does. I have similar feelings and he says it with a mixture of pride and sorrow. Though others lose the feeling of how it was like to be young, people like Jesse and I will always be wondering–sometimes in an insecure way–if we are mature enough for a situation or a relationship.

And then Jesse goes on to talk about seeing his grandmother’s ghost through a rainbow when he was a kid. What a beautiful mental image: you, the living, on one side; a loved one who has passed away, the dead, on the other side; and the rainbow, a transient demarcation, a portal to another universe.