If Before Sunrise was a paean to romance, first love and staying up all night exploring a foreign city with a hot piece of strange, and Before Sunset seethed with the sexual tension of reconnecting with your first love, then Before Midnight is when the petty realities of life and relationships kick in.

Slacker cinema icon Richard Linklater’s third film in the lifelong story of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse’s (Ethan Hawke) love affair rejoins the couple eighteen years (in real time) after they first meet on a train passing through Austria, and nine years since they reconnect in Paris in Before Sunset. This time, Celine and Jesse are on holiday on a Greek island with their tiny twin daughters in tow. Jesse’s just farewelled his son, whose Stateside mother hasn’t dimmed her hatred for Jesse since he left her for his old French flame. Jesse’s subtly mulling over the idea of moving back to the States to be near his son, and this conflict – with the stunning arid beauty of the Mediterranean island as a backdrop – sets the scene for Delpy, Hawke and Linklater to hash out the multitude of grievances that come when life and children wear away at the driving force of love.

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s chemistry is as strong as ever – they talk almost non-stop for 109 minutes and not a word seems scripted. It’s as if Delpy and Hawke are exorcising their own relationship demons with the characters as conduits, because they hit the nail right on the head with every exchange, from the petty squabbles over who does more around the house to the big crisis questions of whether love still exists.

If you’ve ever been emotionally involved with someone, you’ll be flinching under the bombardment of truth bombs, which is what makes the Before… series so powerful – whether it’s dealing with love affairs that are shiny and new, being rediscovered or fading away, it’s all painfully, gloriously genuine. Or maybe you can’t relate to any of their arguments – maybe you think Celine is a just ridiculous ball of neuroses and Jesse is an insensitive oaf. And maybe you’re an automaton with the emotional range of a Geordie Shore star.

4/5 stars

BY NICK JARVIS

Before Midnight opens in cinemas Thursday July 18.

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