Of marriage, voyeurism & inertia
Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - November 16, 2015 - 9:00am

Film review: By the Sea

MANILA, Philippines - It has been 10 years since Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the film that first brought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together in both cinematic and real life. So if only for the casting of the two in the film, By the Sea becomes an event beyond the film itself.

Written and directed by Angelina (after her war survival drama Unbroken), the new film is the dissection of a 14-year-old marriage that is undergoing a crisis, and for which a holiday in the French Riviera is seen as a hoped-for solution.

By the Sea is filmed in Malta and set in the ’70s. A small fishing village on the French Mediterranean becomes the retreat for Roland (Brad) and Vanessa (Angelina), an American writer and stage dancer, respectively. The film’s plot basically chronicles their arrival at the seaside town, encountering and forging a relationship with Michel (Neils Arestrup) the owner of the cafe/bar, and Patrice (Richard Bohringer), the hotel proprietor.

Events pick up when a newlywed couple, Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud), arrive at the hotel. The discovery by Vanessa of a small hole in the wall provides a voyeuristic escape from the tedium of their holiday, as it affords her an unobserved view into the lives of the next-door newlyweds. And as this spy hole becomes a shared experience with Roland, it heralds a potential thawing in the frostbite that has so far characterized their on-the-rocks relationship.

If one were to look beyond the celebrity couple of Brangelina for a star in this film outing, I would nominate Christian Berger, the handpicked cinematographer, who employs his Cine Reflect Lighting System, which maximizes the use of natural light. Every outdoor scene, every sweeping panoramic shot, will leave you breathless and aching to book that Mediterranean holiday.

The interior shots are studies of light and shadow, heightening the drama and fragile mental states of our protagonists — what they say and what they mean are often two different things.

Reminiscent of art house films and the doomed romanticism of the French New Wave and Italian films of the ’60s and ’70s; there is a strong throwback element to this kind of filmmaking and storytelling. For some, this narrative inertia may be downright suffocating; while for others, the always more than pretty cinematography and stunning vistas, coupled with the languid plot development, can make for arresting cinema. Fans of the Before Sunrise trilogy may be among the first to champion this kind of film.

But be forewarned, as it isn’t your regular “talkie” kind of film. To show the strain in the relationship between Roland and Vanessa, more than half of the dialogue we hear is in French (with English subtitles) — that of Roland conversing with the villagers. That brings home the point of just how forced this holiday is, a last-chance gasp at saving the marriage.

By the Sea is a visually stunning film, which could have used more narrative development; but when you have the likes of Brad and Angelina to gaze at, it just may be more than enough to forgive the paucity of storytelling.

 

ACIRC ANGELINA JOLIE AND BRAD PITT BRAD AND ANGELINA BY THE SEA CHRISTIAN BERGER CINE REFLECT LIGHTING SYSTEM FANS OF THE BEFORE SUNRISE FILM FRENCH MEDITERRANEAN FRENCH NEW WAVE AND ITALIAN FRENCH RIVIERA
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