As we walked out of the dark movie theatre we had the same complaint. Why so little depiction of Greece? We need more Greece! The Before Midnight crew set up shop there for some time, filming on location in the southern Peloponnese, giving us glimpses of the Kalamata airport, a drive-by of the ruins of Pylos, some lovely scenes of the late writer Patrick Leigh Fermor’s house (see more on the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog), a great walkabout of the village of Kardamyli, a twinkly-lighted bay backdrop to a café at sunset and nearly midnight. (Readers in Greece: where is that teeny Byzantine church? I loved it!)
But so much of the film took place inside a rental car and a hotel room (well-chosen, by the way, for its banal luxury). This lent the scenes an appropriately claustrophobic feel, but I was longing for you, Richard Linklater, to let your director of photography, Christos Voudouris, burst in with a bunch of extraneous scenery for a pure pleasure indulgence. There are so many fans of Celine and Jesse that Before Midnight will be stimulating the Peloponnesian economy in no time but just think how much more you could have done.
Maybe I wanted to look at the backdrop not just because I’m in love with Greece but because I wanted somewhere else to fix my gaze but on the characters. In Before Sunset we’re watching the faces of two people falling in love, gingerly cautious about giving too much away but in every frame and every facial flicker dazzled with their good fortune of reuniting. The Paris they walk through mirrors that, and the long interior scenes—inside Shakespeare & Company bookstore, the café, Celine’s apartment—are the high rather than low points, charming interior scenes that reflect the longing for love, the hopeful reaching out between the two. Like everyone else in the movie theatre in Chelsea, I sighed with delight at the most-exquisitely-perfect ending of Before Sunset. And when Before Midnight finally opened in Minneapolis yesterday I was there, front row in the balcony, sharing the loveseat and popcorn bag with my beau, for the very first showing.
The Greece pictured looked worn and sad, like the too-realistic depiction of a romance that’s become mundane, a portrayal of two people who constantly bicker, harbor suspicions of one another, find ways to avoid intimacy. Yeah, I know. Apologies to Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke. It’s not you, it’s me. The film is beautiful, painful, precisely written, so real it feels voyeuristic. What I’m frustrated with is the failure of our narrative imagination—that we, culturally speaking, can’t seem to find or create a narrative for romantic partnership other than one that peaks at courtship and falls inexorably into boredom and long-simmering resentment.
What if the film opened to reveal Jesse and Celine, nine years down the road, more intimate with one another, taking more joy in one another’s presence? Not holding hands and skipping through the clover, but using language as a way of growing closer and more open rather than as a way of picking each other apart and donning armor. Multiple choice answers: (a)Too sentimental? (b) Mere fantasy? (c) Just not possible? (d) OK, maybe possible, but not with children?
I know it’s a form of pathetic fallacy but that Greek landscape would look brighter, more hopeful, with a little tenderness.