BERLIN, GERMANY (FEBRUARY 11, 2013) (REUTERS) - Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise the roles of Jesse and Celine in "Before Midnight", the third but not necessarily the last movie in their long-running series based on the same characters as they age over time.
In this film, set 18 years after "Before Sunrise", the couple is on holiday in Greece and we learn that they live with their twin daughters in Paris while Jesse's son has stayed with his mother in Chicago.
Screening at the Berlin film festival on Monday (February 11), "Before Midnight" examines how life's twists have taken their toll on the American tourist and French student who met on a train bound for Vienna in 1995 and again in Paris nine years later in "Before Sunset".
They still love each other but this time they are older, heavier, and bicker more, and the forces pulling Jesse back towards his teenage son and Celine's determination to pursue her career in France test that bond to its limits.
Director Richard Linklater, on board throughout the series, underlined the organic nature of the "Before..." films when he was asked whether there might be a fourth installment, presumably some time around 2022.
"The fact that we've made two sequels, I guess it begs the question, but I think I speak for the group here, I'm sure we have absolutely no idea what that (sequel) could possibly be," he told reporters at the 11-day film festival.
"We probably won't for another six years. Who knows the future?"
French actress Delpy joked that the final film in the series would be a remake of Michael Haneke's Oscar-nominated drama "Amour", about an elderly couple aged in their 80s facing the inevitability of imminent death, adding that she was not actually Celine but that some of her essence was in the character.
"It is interesting to take, maybe, a seed of truth. Something that is genuine because it is true that even in 'Before Sunrise' - I saw it again before we started writing this . and I was like kind of surprised by how things that were actually in my journals when I was 18 ended up in this film, very personal things. Not about who I am necessarily but about feelings. Things like that, you see it is more about an essence than me being Celine but it is this little seed of truth and then it can grow this tree of fiction," Delpy told a Berlinnews conference.
Critical reaction to "Before Midnight" has been mixed.
In its review, the Guardian newspaper said the movie felt forced, but The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "Though this stage is harder to watch, audiences who have aged along with Celine and Jesse will treasure this new episode."
Hawke said he, Delpy and Linklater, who jointly developed the script over two years, felt the weight of expectation as they embarked on the third part of a story which many viewers identified with so closely.
"I haven't met a director in the last nine years that didn't tell me what he or she thought the third film should be. So we knew we were up against a lot of people having an agenda about where Jesse and Celine should be. That agenda is stifling."
"Before Midnight" consists of a handful of long, single-shot scenes focussing on the couple as they navigate a life complicated by broken families, work pressures and the familiarity of living together.
"The first one you have all this youthful optimism, the future is all ahead of you, you know, they have all this freedom. They can get off a train, they are not expected to be anywhere. There is no attachments. The next one you find them, they are both basically working , Ethan is at work, it is the town she lives in. They have accumulated some baggage,. He is married and has a kid. This one, they have committed one more step further so it is like they are just trying to hold on at a certain phase of life, you know 41, like ok: this is my life and there is something very real about it. You know if you follow your passion, there is a price to pay," Linklater told Reuters TV.
In the first scene Jesse sees his son off at the airport in an awkward exchange that underlines how the two have grown apart. In the next Jesse and Celine discuss children, work and their relationship in frank and often funny exchanges.
"She was burned at the stake and was a virgin," jokes Celine. "Who wants to be Joan of Arc?"
As the film goes on, banter becomes bickering, then descends into a blazing row and the ending, as ever, remains ambiguous.