BY THE SEA
In France during the mid-1970s, Vanessa (Angelina Jolie), a former dancer, and her husband Roland (Brad Pitt), an American writer, travel to a small seaside town hotel for a summer break. They seem to be growing apart, but after a while, and after meeting honeymooners Lea (Mˇlanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupard) they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as ageing local bar/cafˇ-keeper (Niels Arestrup), and begin to address their so far hidden shared trauma.
Review by Louise Keller:
Poetic, intimate and beautiful, there's a European sensibility about Angelina Jolie's film about grief and loss. Of course there's an undeniable voyeuristic element. After all we are watching arguably the world's most celebrated, photogenic couple in the most intimate of situations. But whatever your take on the film and irrespective of whether you consider it to be a vanity project, overly manufactured, an insight into their own relationship or a sensitive exploration about intimacy and relationships, one thing is certain: it is fascinating to watch.
It is the early 1970s and Jane Birkin's plaintive voice sings Serge Gainsbourg's Jane B as Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa's (Angelina Jolie) silver Citroen convertible makes its way through the beautiful French countryside as they near their destination - by the sea. I smell fish, she says on arrival. There's clearly something fishy about the relationship - he drinks; she takes pills. They hardly talk. He goes out every morning to write - or gather material for the book he is trying to write; she watches the lone fisherman rowing his boat somewhere on the cerulean sea.
When he kisses her, she pushes him away, washing out her mouth with wine. 'Are we ever going to talk about it?' he asks, a voice filled with pain. What is the secret anguish they are unable to talk about? False eyelashes, perfectly manicured hands and a stunning Yves Saint Laurent wardrobe of flowing, feminine elegance by way of negligees, lounging wear and dresses are Vanessa's armour. La Perla, Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo are designer brands that are also credited.
Catalyst for change is the arrival of the newlyweds Lea and Francois next door, played by Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud, whose passion and constant lovemaking highlights the lack of passion between Vanessa and Roland. Laurent spends much of the time in varying shades of undress. The little peep hole in the wall between the two hotel rooms becomes a emotional bridge as Vanessa and Roland start watching their neighbours. Jolie and Pitt have never been so vulnerable as they express and embody the conflict, anger, tenderness, despair and confusion of their characters.
Michel (Niels Arestrup) play the amiable cafe owner who deals with his own loss in his own way. It is with Michel that Roland chats drinks his coffee and downs too many gins each day as he learns about life from a different perspective. Pitt delivers much of his dialogue in hard to fathom French.
There's a raw energy and overt vulnerability as emotional extremes play out, Roland and Vanessa's simmering relationship reaching boiling point. Gabriel Yared's elegant and evocative music score adds greatly and it is easy to be seduced by the tranquil setting, Malta substituting for the South of France. According to Jolie, who wrote and directed the film with great sensitivity, it was never intended to be commercial, but 'a delicate artistic exploration'. That it is - and many things beside.
This is the first time Jolie and Pitt have worked together on screen since Mr and Mrs Smith 10 years ago, when the couple first met.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
'Never assume anything about anyone' has been my mantra for many years so it is no surprise when characters in a film demonstrate the veracity of that sentiment. In this deeply personal film, Angelia Jolie (billed here as Angelina Jolie Pitt), plays the enigmatic Vanessa, a beautiful woman, once a dancer, now a taciturn, withdrawn and hurt, angry island of pain. Her performance is internalised, her character a conflicted and overlapping mix of sensitivity and hardness. We don't know (until the end) what drives and torments her like this.
It's not surprising that she cast her husband Brad Pitt as her husband Roland; it perhaps gives her some emotional security in the things her character does. Pitt is a mature actor, full capable of a complex Roland, the slightly insecure writer trying to figure out Vanessa's behaviour, her distance, her coolness, her anguish. Roland is more pragmatic and more able to disguise his pain - but that doesn't mean he feels it less. He just shows it in different ways.
Shot on a stunning Maltese beach location standing in for somewhere in the South of France (where high fashion boutiques and high class restaurants are never far from even remote beaches), the film is an arthouse gem, notwithstanding its two major commercially viable stars. Secondary in screen time but by no means secondary in impact, Mˇlanie Laurent and Melvil Poupard as the honeymooners, deliver meticulous performances, as does the ever reliable and well worn Niels Arestrup, whose veracity is always a pleasure.
In an adjacent room of the grand old hotel, the honeymooners play a pivotal role in the emotional journey our central characters make.
By the Sea is sombre and by today's standards slow, its time period the 70s, so in many ways quite out of sync with life outside the cinema today. Yet the humanity is palpable, the observations acute and the authenticity of the subject matter universal and forever relevant.
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BY THE SEA (MA15+)
CAST: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Mˇlanie Laurent, Melvin Poupaud, Niels Arestrup, Sarah Naudi, Richar Bohringer, Anna Cachia, George Camilleri
PRODUCER: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt
DIRECTOR: Angelina Jolie
SCRIPT: Angelina Jolie
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christian Berger
EDITOR: Martin Pensa, Patricia Rommel
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Hutman
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 3, 2015