It began 18 years ago. That's in what we now quaintly call "real time" -- the time that passes as the clock ticking next to you registers the seconds and the minutes.
The movie was called Before Sunrise. That's when the two fictional lovers met on a train to Vienna. And couldn't seem to part.
Then, in 2004, came its sequel, Before Sunset. And now, the finest film of 2013 so far, Before Midnight, also starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, hits the silver screen.
In the three films, we have come to care deeply about these two extraordinary people. We are now watching them nine years later on holiday in Greece with their children.
It is a singular film achievement that we have watched these two performers over 18 years playing roles which they have always, in part, created as well as enacted. But it is equally singular -- and probably far more important -- to know that you will absolutely not need to have seen either Before Sunrise and Before Sunset to enjoy the brilliance of Before Midnight.
If you have, you're seeing something altogether amazing, quite beyond any continuing tale starring two actors you've seen before.
Before Midnight is the story of Jesse and Celine, two 40-somethings with twin daughters and a son from his previous marriage who has just had what the teen calls the best summer of his life with the four of them in Greece.
And that, smack in the middle of Jesse's loving paternal heart, is where the trouble starts. As Jesse says goodbye to his son at the airport, he is riven with remorse. His son is about to fly back to his alcoholic mother in Chicago while his father and his beautiful family live an ocean away in Paris.
Jesse is torn up, so much so that he even entertains thoughts of trying to convince Celine to move the family to Chicago so they can all be close to the teenage boy they love so dearly.
But then Celine wonders about a job with her old boss in Paris, which she describes to Jesse as the job of a lifetime.
Given the utter incompatibility of the secret desires, it is remarkable that the conflict that we see unfold in close to "real time" is as civilized and well-behaved as it is.
The point here is talk, talk, talk. Talk is how these people met and fell in love. Talk is how they inch their way into this terrible conflict of feelings that has shown up in the deepest layer of their relationship.
It has to be admitted that no movie as wall-to-wall with talk -- and with so many walk-and-talk scenes filmed in astonishingly long single takes -- would rivet your attentions equally with every single word.
But what this movie forces you to see is that underneath every one of those copiously flowing words, there is a dramatic fissure that has developed between the two lead characters.
Something terrible is threatening. And so much basic stuff is involved that it's going to be very rocky indeed.
That's the movie. And it is sometimes wickedly funny. These are people to whom sarcasm is one of the basic forms of speech. Their verbal facility is probably the most obvious thing they love about each other. It's also the thing that can get them into trouble so easily.
They never cease to surprise us.
-- Buffalo News