The premiere comes to Athens on Tuesday night, sandwiched between the storm clouds and the picket lines. Its future is uncertain, its schedule in flux. The government pulls the plug on state broadcaster ERT, which throws the press coverage into disarray. The forecast is for rain, necessitating a last-minute change of venue from outdoors to in. There are beggars on the street, protesters outside the parliament and a caterpillar of riot police closing in on Syntagma square. “Welcome to Greece,” says film producer Amanda Livanou, overseeing the arrivals outside the theatre. “Greece is a mess.”
Inside, sheltered from a downpour that never materialises, the guests watch Before Midnight, a new film from the American director Richard Linklater. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke play Celine and Jesse, rattling through Greece on their way to a showdown. The route leads us past amber ruins, slowly baking in the summer sun, and into lonesome chapels where the eyes of the saints have long since been scratched out. Celine and Jesse love each other and that should be enough. But their life together has grown hobbled, scratchy and fraught with challenge. In the end they are something of a mess themselves.
Before Midnight is Linklater’s third film about Celine and Jesse (his fourth if you count their woozy cameo in 2001’s animated Waking Life. We saw them first as footloose inter-railers, skipping through Vienna in 1995’s Before Sunrise; jousting and flirting, their whole lives up ahead. In 2004’s Before Sunset we found them in Paris, recast as pensive thirtysomethings, desperate to rekindle an old flame. This time, after the customary nine-year gap, they have moved on again, ostensibly united yet still in search of a happy ending.
“The dynamic of the first two films was pretty similar,” Delpy tells me. “It was about connecting and then reconnecting. This one is different in that it concerns the problems that stem from being connected. It’s about being tethered, feeling trapped.”
Hawke takes a more charitable view. “The first film is about what could be,” he explains. “The second is about what should have been. Before Midnight is about what it is.”
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