Tuesday, November 24, 2015

By the Sea

I'm a little surprised at how much I liked this one; I've been frustrated both by the films that try to capture the 1970s European movie vibe it goes for and the genuine article, so this was one that I wound up seeing because that's where the MoviePass 24-hour window was pushing until tonight's reset.

Still, even as much as I liked it, I found it very difficult to break out of an analytic mindset into one where I felt I was really experiencing the film, and I wonder how much that was intended. Even more than usual, I was at least outlining this review in my head while watching it, rather than being captivated and wanting to know what was going to happen next, I was trying to make connections, figure out representation, note camera placement and usage.

There is a pretty good argument that this is the way a mature adult watches movies, and experiences literature, although I must admit that I enjoy it more when I'm captivated by what I'm watching, and all the technique the filmmakers use reveals itself to me either on a second viewing or as I try to relate it to someone else. The ones that can do both are the films I really love, and I missed the initial excitement. On the other hand, I've seen plenty of movies that lack the thrilling part and aren't enjoyable to deconstruct while watching, so there's still that.

Oh, and I don't know whether the next part is more creepy or SPOILERS!

... but this is absolutely the kind of movie that younger viewers would primarily be watching in hopes of seeing nudity, and I can't lie and say I wasn't keeping an eye out for that. Still, I think that it's a little more interesting given that writer/director/star Angelina Jolie Pitt underwent some pretty extensive surgery to remove her cancer-risk breast tissue and rebuild it, considering that her character is eventually revealed as devastated by health problems and losses that clearly make her feel less of a woman.

As I mention in the review, I had a kind of weird reaction to the ultimate revelation that Vanessa's depression has its roots in being unable to bear children; it seems very rote and almost dismissive to say that this is what reduces a woman to misery, even while acknowledging that it would be legitimately devastating. I'm certainly not going to scold her for it, but I think feeling that was is a kind of side effect of hwo I felt I was engaging to movie's construction rather than emotion - I was measuring the power of the story rather than feeling it.

(I did find myself feeling glad that people don't commonly refer to women as "barren" anymore. They don't, right? It sounds like such a personal condemnation in the film that I hope less evocative language has become more common.)


Interesting that she started crediting herself as "Angelina Jolie Pitt" for this one. Annoying, kind of - after one of the other writers on eFilmCritic mentioned that men being referred to by their last names and women either by their first or as "Ms. Jolie" annoyed her, I tried stop doing so, as it is kind of a double standard that subtly implies a somewhat lower level of respect for the women in question (assumption of familiarity). I kind of had to go with "Mr. Pitt" and "Mrs. Pitt" here, and it reads weird.

By the Sea

* * * (out of four)
Seen 22 November 2015 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run, DCP)

By the Sea is the sort of movie I would have called boring as a younger man, and I wouldn't back away from the word here but for the craftsmanship being so impeccable. It's a film that often seems to encourage dissection rather than reaction, paradoxically demanding close attention despite not always doing much to seize it.

The sea is the Mediterranean, the time is the 1970s, when an American writer by the name of Roland (Brad Pitt) and his wife Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) are checking into a hotel in the South of France for an extended stay. Roland intends to work on a new book, which seems to involve spending a great deal of time drinking in the cafe operated by Michel (Niels Arestrup) while Vanessa spends most of her time in the room or on the patio with her pills, not wanting to be there or anywhere, really, at least until discovering a peephole that allows her to spy on the newlywed couple next door (Mélanie Laurent & Melvil Poupaud).

It's a marvelously positioned void, really, placed just where the viewer will buy into Vanessa finding it while Lea and François do not, despite being large enough to afford more than a narrow line of sight. It probably makes things easier for cinematographer Christian Berger's camera, as well. The many shots through the hole cannot help but highlight the illicit nature or the glance - it's a perfect circle in the middle of a widescreen image - but there's also a flatness to those images that keeps what we're seeing from being far away. It's almost a TV screen meant to be watched, especially given how perfectly placed a mirror is to show what might otherwise be out of sight without overburdening the image. It feels meant for them (and us) to watch.

Full review on EFC.

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