2015 AFI Film Festival World Premiere
The hottest free (thanks to Audi) ticket in town, the full house at Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre for AFI Fest’s World Premiere of Angelina Jolie Pitt’s By the Sea got to hear the actor and director introduce the film with her cast, including husband Brad Pitt, in tow.
Art film lovers in the 1960s and 1970s had no problem sitting through a stifling European film with long passages where very little happens. Today’s multiplex audiences (if the film ever makes it to wide distribution) may find By the Sea challenging. It’s a serious adult drama with some humor but very little plot. Made for a paltry ten million, both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter calls it a “vanity project” but perhaps “labor of love” is closer to the truth. Filmed on Malta by Christian Berger [The Piano Teacher (2001), the exteriors are certainly gorgeous. The opening sequence of the couple played by Jolie and Pitt, cruising the island with the top down to vintage French pop, is reminiscent of stylish travelogues like Two for the Road (1967) with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney or The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) with Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen.
Set in the 1970s, Roland (Pitt) is a successful but blocked writer. Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) has aged not so gracefully out of a dance career. They’re both going through a mid-life malaise made worse by a dark secret they won’t discuss. Of course, none of this helps their love life. In their hotel suite, Roland struggles to complete a page on his portable typewriter while Nessa, as Roland calls her, sits in bed and pouts.
Roland finds a father confessor/friend in cafe owner Michel, wonderfully played by French actor Niels Arestrup. Speaking mostly in French, Roland hints at problems in the marriage and reveals even more by showing up alone, an obnoxious drunk.
Costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, whose first film credit was in the 1970s [French Quarter (1978)], approaches the fashions of the over-the-top decade subtly. Vanessa’s large frame sunglasses and floppy hat are two of the nod’s to period, She keeps Roland’s wardrobe classic, topped off by a beige, Panama hat.
Nessa becomes fascinated by the fellow vacationers in the hotel room next door, François and Lea, played by Melvil Poupaud and Mélanie Laurent. François is that French guy every American man dreads competing against, good-looking with a charming accent and self-confident to the point of arrogance. Leah is equally formidable, a long-legged blonde in high boots. Here, Jolie Pitt, the object of intense media scrutiny for more than twenty years, offers a self-reflexive comment about voyeurism as Vanessa becomes obsessed with the young couple to the point of absurdity. This lightens the mood greatly and is the most original part of the movie.