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Movie Review: 'Before Midnight' -- 3.5 stars

Ethan Hawke, left, and Julie Delpy in

Ethan Hawke, left, and Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight" Credit: Ethan Hawke, left, and Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight"

Before Midnight
3.5 stars
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Rated R

Opens Friday at Lincoln Square and Angelika
Every nine years or so, filmmaker Richard Linklater reunites with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to produce another installment in their series of movies about lovers Celine (Deply) and Jesse (Hawke), who first met on a train to Vienna in 1994.

“Before Sunrise” (1995) traced their magical day together in the Austrian capital, where love at first sight conflicted with the characters’ very different realities. They reunited in “Before Sunset” (2004), after Jesse wrote a book about their experience. “Before Midnight” finds them in a committed relationship, with twin daughters, and spending the summer on a Greek estate.

Linklater wrote the last two scripts with Hawke and Delpy, and the trilogy as a whole can be seen as a reflection on their own lives and preoccupations as they get older. The first film is filled with the idealism of youth, the second imbued with the joy of a second chance at love. This third effort looks at the nitty-gritty challenges of a long-term relationship.

“If we were meeting for the first time today on a train, would you find me attractive?” Celine asks Jesse. The heart of the movie explores the ramifications of that question, in the form of an extended conversation that looks at the risks of nostalgia, the burdens of the present and the weight of a future that might be more uncertain than it once seemed. It takes place at one of those seminal moments where you take stock of your life and wonder about the choices you've made.

The characters experience a cauldron of emotions set against the monumental beauty of the southern Peloponnese, with its clear blue water, rustic villages and sunset vistas. It’s an ideal setting for a movie about the precarious balancing act that makes any relationship work, the need to combine the extraordinary with the mundane, to preserve great passion while confronting the tyranny of everyday expectations.

The actors have mastered these roles, and Linklater’s observational style is so perfected that they could go on speaking for hours. In its own way, “Before Midnight” is every bit as thrilling as the best summer blockbuster. It’s a movie about life, the grandest subject of all.

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