It’s rare for a talky, character-driven drama to be given one sequel, let alone two. Yet with “Before Midnight” — Richard Linklater’s reprisal of characters he first made famous 18 years ago in “Before Sunrise” — the director has done just that.
The film, which opens May 24, returns us to the lovelorn Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). This time, the pair — he darkly comic, she earnest and idealistic — aren’t meeting by chance but are vacationing on a Greek island, having gotten together nearly a decade ago. Now in their 40s and a little wiser for it, they’re living together in Paris and raising twin daughters — a turn that resolves the question about their collective fate posed at the end of the second film, “Before Sunset,” all the way back in 2004.
“It’s a rare opportunity in the sequel industry to have a movie with such a long gestation period,” Linklater said by phone. “Most sequels are instantaneous, victory-lap kind of films. They don’t have the luxury of not being in a hurry.”
Still, “Midnight” is conscious of what came before and slyly pushes off it. With that in mind, here’s a Linklater-supplemented guide to the common areas and how the new film does — and doesn’t — offer callbacks to its predecessors.
Location: “Sunrise” took place on the streets of Vienna; “Sunset” in Paris. The backdrop shifts dramatically here — it’s a beautiful natural landscape far removed from the previous urban bustle. “I thought it made sense to set this outside the city,” Linklater said. “There’s something paradisiacal about where they are, which makes it much more interesting when problems start later.”
Transportation: Jesse and Celine first met on a train, with all its people and possibilities. “Midnight,” on the other hand, opens with a nearly 15-minute take in a car, and all its intimacy and claustrophobia. “I wanted to show that their world has closed a bit, and they’re stuck with each other,” Linklater said. “But that’s OK. A train signifies adventure. But the confinement of a car can be good for a relationship — it forces you to talk.”
The youngsters: In “Sunrise,” Jesse and Celine were practically kids themselves. In “Sunset” Jesse had a son, never shown. Here? There are three kids, all seen on-screen. It’s a reflection, of sorts, of the lives of Linklater, Hawke and Delpy, who went from one child among them in 1995 (Linklater’s) to eight.
The title: The “Before” is kept, but for this go-round it’s the numbers on a clock, not a solar state, that follows. “Time is a big element in these movies and in how these characters relate to their lives, so I wanted to include that in the title.” Of course, doesn’t that leave six more hours to cover? “Maybe there’s one more movie to complete a 24-hour cycle,” Linklater agreed with a laugh.