AFI 2015 Review: Angelina Jolie Pitt's 'By the Sea' Starring Brad Pitt
by Marco Cerritos
November 14, 2015
The strained marriage of an artistic couple is at the heart of By the Sea, the new directorial effort from Angelina Jolie Pitt. She and husband Brad Pitt star as the unhappy pair and while most will be quick to prejudge and deem this a vanity project the movie while not perfect is much deeper than its superficial exterior. By the Sea is a deliberate departure for the Hollywood power couple, the kind of movie that was commonplace in the 70s but can only be made now with the influence of these two megastars. Everything from the immaculate cinematography by Christian Berger (The White Ribbon) to the lush score by legendary composer Gabriel Yared (The Talented Mr. Ripley) evokes a forgotten era of filmmaking. An era Jolie Pitt is obviously very familiar with and despite a few bumps in the road manages to create in her own unique style.
Roland (Brad) and Vanessa (Angelina) are the fictitious couple who have arrived at a beautiful French villa at the start of the film to get away from their everyday lives and fix their labored marriage. He is a celebrated novelist facing writer's block and she is a former dancer dealing with a heavy bout of depression. It's quite obvious that something traumatic has caused the couple to emotionally distance themselves from each other but these reasons are not immediately made clear. Instead we get long stretches where we see Roland and Vanessa saying everything without saying anything. She takes long poignant walks along the gorgeous French resort that hint at her hidden emotional struggle and he sulks at the local bar drowning his sorrows in booze opening up just enough to the local proprietor (played by Niels Arestrup).
Things pick up a bit when young newlyweds Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud) check in to the adjacent room. Fearless and in love, the honeymooners almost act like a time machine to the older and depressed Roland and Vanessa. Their constant energy and blooming sexuality is enough to tease the elders into spying through a peep hole and examine why their own marriage has gone so off course. As the two couples begin to spend more time together it's obvious that things are coming to a head sooner rather than later. Vanessa in particular is obsessed with the young duo and her spiral into depression only gets worse until we see the climax of the couple's ordeal in the film's final act.
By the Sea is a film that is leisurely paced and not really for everyone. Most people expecting a Brad and Angelina pairing along the lines of Mr. and Mrs. Smith will be sorely disappointed, there are no action scenes and the film takes its time to get to its destination. In other words, those moviegoers will find By the Sea to be an endurance test but for everyone else willing to experiment, there is plenty of good to be found. Jolie Pitt has taken very obvious cues from Michelangelo Antonioni and other seminal European filmmakers to create a visual palette that recalls a 1970's art film. It's no mistake that shots are composed in a very delicate manner to force the viewer to pay attention, an almost lost art thanks to the constant Hollywood bombardment of quick cuts and CGI. Jolie Pitt is slowly maturing as a filmmaker and By the Sea shows great promise in her continued career behind the camera.
Marco's AFI 2015 Rating: B-
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