It has been almost exactly ten years since Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt starred together in the film Mr. & Mrs. Smith. They met on the set of the film and fell in love. People have been clamouring for them to do another film every moment since. They resisted the urge until now.
By the Sea was written and directed by Angelina Jolie and is a completely different film than Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Yes, it is about a marriage and what we know about the person we are married to while this one is devoid of action and it is more of a straight up drama of the darker variety that exams the falling apart at the seams marriage of Roland (Brad Pitt – Moneyball, Legends of the Fall), an author, and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie – Salt, Kung Fu Panda), a former dancer.
It is the mid-1970s and Roland and Vanessa have been married for a while and are going through tough times. In an effort to save their marriage they embark on a road trip along the coast of France. When they find a place they both agree on they stop and book a flat. There they get to know some of the inhabitants of the small sleepy town. They are especially drawn to the recently married young couple, Lea (Mélanie Laurent – Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me) and François (Melvil Poupard – Speed Racer, The Lover), who rent the room next to theirs.
The marriage is trouble. Vanessa is depressed and Roland is suffering through writer’s block. There has been a trauma in the relationship and they are trying, in their unconventional way, to save the marriage. Roland drinks too much in his struggle to write and Vanessa pops lots of pills to dull her pain. A diversion from their unhappiness crops up when Vanessa discovers a peep hole in the wall in which she can watch Lea and François through. Roland finds out later what his wife has been doing. At first he is angry at her for hiding it from him and then they begin to watch the newlyweds together. Somehow this act begins to repair the broken marriage.
Many have criticized the film because they expected something else from the two big stars. Don’t mistake this for a star making or ego driven project. It is a slow moving film that film goers today cannot seem to relate to. It is about grief and how two people might deal with it. Very unusual and minimalist, yet beautiful and poignant. It goes off in directions you don’t expect and yet that is what keeps you interested.
This is the third film as director for Jolie, but her first directing herself. She has the sensibilities and eye of director. This film is gorgeous to look at with plenty of beautiful outdoor shots and lovely sets. Credit has to be given to cinematographer Christian Berger (The Piano Teacher, Caché). It has the feel and look of a classic film from the 50s. Jolie has not given in to falling in line with the way films are constructed today; she had a vision of how to tell this story and stuck to it. Commanding the telling of the story is not too big an ask for this artist. She knows exactly the tone and mood required to serve the story.
As for the acting of the two big stars it is a wonder to watch. The chemistry is palpable. Brad Pitt turns in one of the best performances of his lengthy film career. It is a tricky role and he shows himself up to the task. As for Jolie she is incredibly subtle in her bringing to life this really unlikable character. Through doing seemingly very little a lot is communicated. A brave actress who is not afraid to show her aging face (though still uniquely beautiful) and embody a character that does some despicable things.
-Gena Rowlands: An Inspiration
-Making By the Sea