By the Sea
Starring Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud
For Angelina Jolie’s third film behind the camera, (and the first time directing herself in front), she moves even farther away from mainstream expectations. Her first film, In the Land of Blood & Honey (2011), continues to be her most accessible work. Last year she suffered unrealistic expectations from audiences and critics which sunk Unbroken. Jolie says she had to make By the Sea, so regardless of whether audiences understand the reasons for telling this story the way she did, Jolie has delivered a personal film that we are invited to see. With all three of her films being so vastly different in style, voice and delivery, it will be interesting to see where she goes next as a director.
Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie) arrive in Malta to the open sea below a stunning villa. This isn’t a vacation, its work for Roland, who looks for inspiration writing a new book. He accuses his wife of resisting happiness, but wishes her a good day, as he heads down to the single bar in their secluded location. They both drink in excess, smoke to pass the time and anxiety, yet there are few fleeting words between them as they say hello and goodnight. Vanessa discovers a hole in the wall where she spies on the newlywed couple next door. Vanessa and Roland become acquainted with the couple and even go sailing in an attempt to put some adventure in their life. Roland too discovers the peep hole and for the first time they find something they like doing together.
This is an uglier side of love, although Jolie has ensured the attitudes are the only thing unattractive you will see on screen.
In many ways By the Sea is a romance, but when we here the definition of the genre, we think about the spoon-fed love stories with happy endings. This is an uglier side of love, although Jolie has ensured the attitudes are the only thing unattractive you will see on screen. Christian Berger’s camera work is delightful, so crisp and encompassing, you can almost smell the salt in the air. One critic raised the question why Vanessa is always in makeup, dressed to impress. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure that one out; it’s herself she wants to flatter. She knows she is beautiful but wonders if her husband still notices. It’s nearly impossible to separate the movie star versions of the actors in our heads with the characters they play.
Jolie’s script explores everything from youth, to motherhood, love and romance of course, but also loss. One section of the film talks about “to be unknown by someone”, as if to say being with someone who doesn’t know the real you, yet. Neither actor seems to give a real performance, as if even they themselves cannot separate Brad from Roland. At one point in the film, Roland decides to write his story about his wife, “I’ll change the names of course,” he says. Its obvious Jolie has molded her film after 70’s Italian films, audiences who do actually see the film will need patience to endure the suffering, the fighting, the desperation often explained with images rather than words.
An elaborate art project for the Pitt family that just happens to be available for the rest of the world to see.