"This is real life. It's not perfect," says Jesse (Ethan Hawke) in Before Midnight.
Life may not be perfect, but the movie is.
Like a lot of movies that it's possible to love beyond reason, Before Midnight also could inspire its share of nonlovers. I can see people objecting that nothing happens, which is true. Or that it's all talk, which is also true. Or that its main characters, Jesse and Celine (Julie Delpy, whose wit, beauty and neuroses should have made her the French Diane Keaton), spend too much of their time gazing at their navels, which might also be true. But if it is, they are two of the most captivating and thoughtful navels in movie history.
The follow-up to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Before Midnight has a few more characters than the earlier films — Jesse and Celine's twin daughters, some friends they vacation with in Greece — but it comes down to the two cracking each other up, worrying about the future and trying to figure out, 18 years after they met, if they're right for each other.
Mostly, it's all of those things, as summed up in a graceful instant when Celine is about to get mad at Jesse but laughs at her own anger before she can even get out the insult.
The Before movies are fascinated by the textures of a relationship, by how two people who know each other as well as anyone knows anyone else can turn on an emotional dime. This becomes especially clear in the longest of the movie's many long-take scenes: Jesse and Celine's romantic night in a swank hotel is derailed by arguments that we sense they've had a dozen times and will have a dozen more.
One of the joys of the three movies, which each have been separated by nine years or so, is getting up to speed on what has happened since last we saw Jesse and Celine. You can watch Midnight without having seen the previous films, but it's richer if you have because you'll know where they've come from and what's at stake.
The topics range from why Celine mistrusts child care and Greece ("They could have a revolution any day, and they eat a lot of feta") to the differences between men and women. Richard Linklater, who co-wrote the film with Hawke and Delpy, makes his camera almost invisible, seeming to follow these two unobtrusively as they meander around Greece.
Everything, of course, was prewritten and preplanned. But if you can get behind these two characters, the illusion is that you're allowed to peek in as they negotiate the everyday events that, when strung together, become a life.
From moment to moment, the concerns of this frank and funny movie seem small, but the subject proves to be love, the biggest one of all. Or, as Jesse tells Celine, "I'm giving you my whole life. I've got nothing larger to give."
R for sexual content/nudity and language. Sony Pictures Classics. 1:47. Kentucky Theatre.