Tag Archives: Julie Delpy

Here Endeth

The Lesson

by Hope Madden

There is something elegantly old school about the slow burn literary mystery afoot in Alice Troughton’s feature directorial debut, The Lesson. Its overt, unyielding structure suggests a familiar, even predictable thriller.

However zealously screenwriter Alex MacKeith subscribes to the traditional three act story, theme stated on page 5 and all that, Troughton and a superb cast still manage to mesmerize you. You’re given every piece of evidence you will need, and yet you’ll wonder ceaselessly where it will all lead.

Troughton’s direction evokes a tense thriller, even though the story itself never feels as if danger’s around the corner. Still, the camera angles and shot choices – gorgeous though they are – leave you on edge. With her creeping camera and gorgeous location Troughton blurs the line between intellectual drama and mystery thriller.

Her stellar cast helps. Richard E. Grant plays renowned writer J.M. Sinclair, whose son Bertie (Stephen McMillan) is in the market for a tutor to help prepare him for Oxford’s entrance exams. Aspiring writer and massive Sinclair fan Liam (Daryl McCormack, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande) gets the job.

Julie Delpy also stars as family matriarch Hélène, whose aloof demeanor strikes the perfect chord against Grant’s vibrance. It would be wrong to say Grant chews scenery, but you certainly can’t look away from him. A charming narcissist, viciously insecure and competitive, his Sinclair is a big presence, which allows the balance of characters to quietly observe, connive even.

McCormack, who was so impressive in the two-person revelation of Leo Grande, delivers another introspective and surprising performance. At times Liam seems to mirror Sinclair’s insecurity and artist’s fragility, but this is not that story.

The conclusion feels a little tidy, but the intricate ballet of character study and mystery that precedes it is so tight you’ll forgive the minor misstep.

Because After Midnight, They’re Gonna Let It All Hang Down

Before Midnight

by Hope Madden

The third installment of what may be the most understated trilogy in cinematic history, Before Midnight catches up with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) – American writer and French muse – almost twenty years after their first meeting on that train.

Those two romantic kids Richard Linklater followed around Vienna back in 1994’s Before Sunrise, then again through Paris in 2004’s Before Sunset, are now a timeworn couple with kids on vacation in Greece. If nothing else, the pair does visit lovely spots.

For all the similarities in the three films, though, Linklater and his two leads/co-writers take the story in a very natural yet risky direction. The first two installments are among the most unabashedly romantic indie films ever made.

Before Midnight, on the other hand, is far more of a meditation on relationships – the compromises, selfishness, joys, tedium. This is untrod ground in Hollywood, where films find inspiration in either the beginning or the end of a romance. That long slog in the middle, though, that’s hidden from view.

As Celine and Jesse struggle with the consequences of their youthful decisions and wrestle against the weight of middle age, they take some time to examine their lives, flaws and desires. They talk it out.

This is certainly the talkiest film released this weekend, as it relies entirely on conversation to tell its story. There are times when the dialogue feels self-serving. At other times, it gives the film too pretentious an air. On the whole, though, these characters are recognizable in a way that is rarely achieved in film.

Delpy’s performance is particularly courageous, as she’s willing to be unlikeable in the way we all are when we’re feeling particularly bitter and put-upon. Hawke equals her performance, allowing Jesse’s entire demeanor to change in relation to Celine’s mood; after years together, he can predict what’s coming and maneuver to calm the storm. Their unerring take on couplehood is often unsettling, and it brings authenticity to every scene.

Warts and all, Before Midnight is a sort of miracle. It revisits beloved characters with subversive honesty, embraces mid-life without pretending it to be something other than what it is, and finds value in the struggle to remain inspired by your own love.