Study of a couple stresses maturity in ‘Midnight’

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Before Midnight” is the third installment in director Richard Linklater’s saga of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), begun in 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and continued in 2004’s “Before Sunset.” If the first two films belong with the greatest (if talkiest) movie romances of all time, the new film is richer, riskier, and more bleakly perceptive about what it takes for love to endure (or not) over the long haul. It isn’t a scorched-earth special like “Scenes From a Marriage” — Linklater and his stars acknowledge the comforts of intimacy and the great fun of teasing. Like Michael Apted’s “Up” documentaries, the “Before” series offers a time-lapse study of human nature that’s possible only in the movies, and the more you think about it, the more humbling it becomes.

-- Ty Burr, Globe Staff

When the previous chapter “Before Sunset” was released in 2004, Burr was equally impressed. In his Globe review, the critic wrote, “Richard Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset’ is that rose in the desert, a sequel that improves in every way upon its beloved predecessor and a romance that slowly builds a fire from embers thought dead. It’s a movie to cheer lovers and movie lovers alike—an enchanting midsummer cocktail for two, served at dusk on the banks of the Seine.”

The latest film enters the pantheon of great romantic movies and again unites Delpy and Hawke. In a joint interview with Moviefone the duo spoke about working together again and the impact the series has had on fans.

“I know so many people who come up to me—I know how that sounds, it’s a small group of people who are big fans of the film,” Delpy said. “It’s not like ‘Star Wars’—but in that small group of people, it really means something to them.”

Slate digs into the real couple who inspired the series, while Richard Linklater talked to about the bond between the director and his stars.

“It’s almost like the three of us — in my case, Julie and Ethan — we’re like intimate partners with no expectations other than artistic. So we really get to know one another and become each other’s sounding boards. It’s almost like therapy.”

Reviews are still coming in, but in a long analysis in “Film Comment,” Philip Lopate writes, “Where the earlier two films achieve erotic release, the third keeps veering off into irritable argument, which curiously seems proof that the couple have finally achieved a true intimacy.”

But it’s not all heavy. The stars know how to keep things light.

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