Following Last Flag Flying, a look back to 2013 at one of Richard Linklater’s earlier exercises in observing what changes and what stays the same as we grow older and relationships evolve.
Here they go again. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have been roaming in each other’s company on our screens every nine years as Jesse and Celine, first as fresh faced youngsters on a train in Before Sunrise, re-meeting as thirty-somethings in Before Sunset, and now long term partners with 6-year-old twin girls, comfortable as old shoes and yet fiercely scrapping, like best friends and worst enemies. As ever I’m part irritated, part beguiled by this pair, as the camera, deceptively artless, tracks them through their leisurely walks through the Greek countryside, their companionable family moments, their toxic bedroom fights. She has a high powered job in eco-technology (she would have, wouldn’t she), he is a successful novelist, whose books have charted their relationship, just like the films. But he also has a teenage son from his earlier marriage (which he left for her) living in the US, and the pain of this is sharply shown in the opening scenes as he drops him off at the airport after a summer visit.
Strains are beginning to show as the couple’s emotional needs no longer mesh together, and this holiday is evidently for all its idylls a crisis point. Like the earlier films it’s at its best when they’re alone onscreen, the two utterly convincing as a real long-term partnership in their improvised-based but honed and crafted dialogue, the real texture of ordinary life. The only false note comes in a rather gloopy after-dinner session with an irritating set of boho friends so handsome and well-lit and articulate, so comfortably self-assured, so full of unremarkable platitudes about life and love and marriage, that it seemed as related to real life as the conversations in Mama Mia. In contrast sexual politics and pure malice mix in the climactic bedroom scene as the seething resentments and recognition of differences surface, both actors giving their all, and particularly Delpy, literally letting it all hang out as she stumps enraged around the room working herself up into pure self-righteous rage, throwing in everything she can from bad sex to ‘I could have been a contender’ whinging. I find I neither like nor really care about these people at all, but it’s gruesomely enjoyable to witness, the delicious self harm of picking an argument with someone you love.
‘Will they be together in 9 years time?’ I wrote in 2005, and I’m writing it again. After the fight – what? It’s unresolved, as the couple rejoin to watch the sun disappear over the horizon, ‘Still there, still there, still there … gone’. Sounds like the end, certainly. Or maybe this cycle of closeness and rancour is one they are going to repeat for ever as sure as the sun reappears every morning. Another nine years and their lovely twins will be horrid teenagers – now that will be a test.
Seen at Odeon Cinema, Edinburgh 26 June 2013