Need a reminder about how quick life goes by for us all? It's now 18 years (!) since director Richard Linklater and stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy introduced us to one-enchanted-night soul mates Jesse and Celine in the Vienna-set Before Sunrise, nine since they were reunited in Paris in Before Sunset. Now they too are worried about lost time in Before Midnight, a film powered not by the rush and possibilities of romantic love but the messiness and compromises of everyday life with someone else.

This time the setting is Greece, where Jesse (Hawke) is saying goodbye to his 13-year-old son Hank (Davey-Fitzpatrick) who is returning home to Jesse's ex-wife in Chicago after spending the summer with his father. Outside in the airport car park are Celine (Delpy) and - dozing in the backseat - the couple's twin daughters. It looks like the dream family holiday, but there are problems even in paradise.

Jesse is worried that his son is growing up too fast - would a move back to the US from Paris be the solution or cause more problems? Celine, meanwhile, has reached a crossroads in her career in Paris, with responsibilities, money and personalities all factors in deciding which path to take. Jesse and Celine need each other's advice, but both are worried about what the answers will be. They're talking about stuff - but how much is being left unsaid?

It's a rare balm for the soul to sit in a cinema in the middle of summer and watch a film where people 'just' talk (ironically, this movie moves a darn sight quicker than most blockbusters too). And, unlike most sequels, Before Midnight has just as much style and grace as its predecessors. Hope may be a different, more subjective matter.

For the faithful, Jesse and Celine have become old friends, the ones who help you pinpoint where you are in your own life by looking at where they are in theirs. Unlike our previous get-togethers, the future now seems to hold more in the way of fear and doubt for them, with a workout for your head and heart in debating whether you feel the same way about things. The relationship ping-pong and shifting allegiances in Linklater, Delpy and Hawke's script gives the two actors the opportunity to do perhaps the strongest and most naturalistic work of their careers to date - if you want to find the gold of two performers really going at it then there's a big pot waiting here.

Whether this is really the end, or the start of another nine-year wait, Before Midnight is just as satisfying and comforting: everyone worries that they haven't seen, done or loved enough.

"It's not perfect, but it's real," pleads a character at one point. It's both.

Harry Guerin

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