R | 132 min | Drama, Romance
Review - Matt Mungle
**In select theaters November 20th 2015**
Synopsis: By the Sea follows an American writer named Roland (Brad Pitt) and his wife, Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt), who arrive in a tranquil and picturesque seaside resort in 1970s France, their marriage in apparent crisis. As they spend time with fellow travelers, including young newlyweds Lea and François, the couple begin to come to terms with unresolved issues in their own lives.
Review: This film comes on the heels of Angelina Jolie's directorial endeavor UNBROKEN. Here she not only directs but also stars in the film, portraying a character from the script she wrote. It is safe to say that she does all three impressively. If you want to get the Oscars to notice then give them a lot of options. Regardless of its Academy Award potential it it not necessarily a film for everyone.
The story is well penned and you immediately engage with the characters. Roland and Vanessa obviously have some baggage other than their Louis Vuitton. This is a couple who are amiable to one another but just below the surface is a torrent of emotion and anger seething through marital fissures. Roland adores his wife but her catatonic emotional state and refusal to talk about their troubles is bringing him to a breaking point. He spends his days at the local pub drinking and searching for inspiration for his writing. She barely leaves their hotel room and stares blankly into space with sorrowful eyes.
The mystery revolves around an incident in their past. Something has caused pain and separation for them. You can speculate and soon get a pretty good idea, yet their is still an intrigue to them that keeps you a tad unsure. Most of this comes from Vanessa. The movie takes a turn when a young newlywed couple rent the apartment next to theirs. Vanessa's fascination with them is a mix of voyeurism and contempt. Neither her or Roland are extroverts so their desire to mingle with these two add to the plot.
Brad Pitt was a good choice for the role. The fact that his character is so in love with his wife comes easy since he more than likely feels that for Angelina. The way he looks at her is probably no different than real life. Jolie too seems at ease in her characters pain and anger. It is widely known of her own personal journey and there is no doubt she tapped that tree for this performance. The supporting cast of actors will be unfamiliar to American audiences. This helps to ground you to the village in which they are staying. You get the since that these people have lived there their entire lives.
The film is also beautiful to watch. Cinematographer Christian Berger uses the French seaside to his advantage creating a movie that looks timeless. Every detail captures the 70's wonderfully. The slow pace of the story and the expansive shots also add to the time period. You can almost feel the salty air as it gently blows the curtains of an open window allowing the atmosphere to swallow you up.
That is all good news. The problem with BY THE SEA is that 132 minutes is a long time to watch the repetitive days of the characters. The film can be summed up in ten minutes. Not a lot happens. Yes we are being introduced to their pain slowly. True that it takes time to capture the rhythm of the story. But unless you adore films of this tone and nature the minutes will drag by. Also it is not a standard couple drama. Events unfold and Vanessa and Roland engage in some very off putting decisions when it comes to their new neighbors. This adds to the intrigue but the graphic depictions may create awkward moments for some mixed company viewers. Just say I would not recommend it for a first date.
Rated R for strong sexuality, nudity, and language it is an adult drama. If those three things do not bother you in the realm of mature and non gratuitous film making then you will be ok. Most of the graphic sexuality comes in a voyeuristic manner. Sadly for many this will distract from the very emotional journey that Roland and Vanessa take. It is touching and poignant. A story that easily could have been told without the visual nudity. Adult viewers are smart enough to know what is going on. The conclusion would have unfolded just as well either way. I give it a 3.75 out of 5. It is a beautiful film to watch and Jolie proves that regardless of what hat she is wearing, she will deliver one-hundred percent.