It doesn't take long to forget "Before Midnight" is a movie.
Shortly after the film opens, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are driving through picturesque Greek scenery talking. And talking. And talking.
This marks the third cinematic pairing of their characters, Jesse and Celine, and the driving scene goes on for minute after minute in one continuous take. Shot through the windshield, it's a quietly stupendous feat of acting and filmmaking by the bright, appealing actors and their silent partner, writer-director Richard Linklater.
The film plays out in a series of similarly long takes in their endless, and endlessly fascinating, conversation. It helps that Delpy and Hawke are so much fun to watch while they're doing it.
Granted, my enthusiasm for this art-house romance got a boost from the thousands of miles I traveled to see it.
I'm writing this from Missoula, Mont., on our annual family visit, once again savoring the rustic meeting ground of rugged old-fashioned and cutting-edge hip.
"Before Midnight" is playing in Wilma Theatre, which dates from 1921, when a successful local businessman erected the eight-story apartment building and named its grand, ground-floor theater after his wife, Wilma, who was a light-opera artist of some repute.
Home to the International Wildlife Film Festival every year, the deco-accented Wilma Theater is fraying a bit but still stately, next to rushing waters of the Clark Fork River that bisects downtown Missoula.
Missoula's strong, utilitarian urban architecture from that era is ringed by mountains with snow still on their peaks in late June. Missoula feels like a railroad, and a whiskey-and-coffee-fueled small city from bygone times, echoing with memories of cattle ranchers, copper barons, miners and other gritty folks able to brave its winters.
But Missoula has its artistic side, too, like the Wilma or a street named for great Western painter and sculptor Charlie Russell. It's also home to the University of Montana and countless authors and artists. You can get a great steak here in its many fine restaurants, but you can just as easily eat organically.
It's Ground Zero for any number of rugged adventure sports, summer or winter. But its tough hide camouflages a progressive, tolerant soul. A pair of men holding hands join in the vintage joy of just strolling through downtown in the warm golden twilight that lingers until 10 p.m.
Lingering twilight infuses "Before Midnight," too. When Jesse met Celine in 1995's "Before Sunrise," they were a pair of 20-something strangers on a train, who got off in Vienna and spent a magical night together before parting in the morning.
Their reunion in 2004's "Before Sunset" came after Jesse turned that first encounter into a novel, and Celine showed up at a Parisian bookstore on his book tour.
Voila! Ze chemistry, it is still here!
Now, nine years later, they are a couple, living in Paris where they have successful careers and a pair of adorable young twin daughters. "Before Midnight" comes at the end of a six-week writers' retreat with other, equally brilliant and beautiful people against a spectacular Greek backdrop.
It would all be perfect - if only life were perfect. But instead, "Before Midnight" is a rich, incisive, gold mine of data about the current state of affairs between men and women in our culture. It is by turns amusing, touching, shattering and hopeful. While Jesse and Celine's wit is as attractive as their faces, their most romantic quality is their honesty.
The genuine affection between the actors translates into rare chemistry on screen; ironically, their love is as present in their fighting as it is in their lighter moments. "Before Midnight" is all about love. Which means it's a drama, a comedy and a mystery, all at once.
It may not warrant getting on a plane to see, but is definitely worth putting on your Netflix to-do list.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.