Wednesday, November 11, 2015

By Bob Strauss - Cineplex Magazine on November 11, 2015

After making the harrowing war dramas Unbroken and In the Land of Blood of Honey, Angelina Jolie Pitt decided to write and direct a film about a marriage.

By the Sea, which stars she and her real-life husband Brad Pitt as a couple not coping well with tragedy during a 1970s French vacation, may not play like much of a holiday, but the actor/director says it was just what she needed after staging the torments of Japanese P.O.W. camps and Bosnian War rape centres.

“When you’re always making films about real history — I wrote Blood and Honey based on real historical events — you’re so responsible to the people that lived it,” says Jolie Pitt during an interview in Hollywood. “It weighs heavy on you. Every decision you make, every creative decision you make, you have to be more thoughtful, more careful. And you can’t always make the creative choice sometimes, just the morally right choice as you put your scenes together.

“So it was nice to do something that was really out of the box for me, and creative. It didn’t have that kind of responsibility to it, so we got to play a little bit. It’s a heavy drama in a way, but it’s also the ’70s and it’s a little bit fun.”

Emphasis on the word little. While the pain that the film’s couple is trying to work through is alleviated somewhat by encounters with upbeat locals played by French actors Mélanie Laurent (who co-starred with Pitt in Inglourious Basterds) and Niels Arestrup (A Prophet), there are tears, tranquilizers and tongue-lashings aplenty.

“The conflict of marriage?” Jolie Pitt half laughs when asked if By the Sea is that much different from her war movies. Made during her honeymoon last summer on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta — with her six kids along for the show — the production clearly had its joys. One was working, as well as playing, with family.

“Directing Brad was amazing. He’s obviously an extraordinary actor,” says Jolie Pitt, who’s no slouch as an actor herself, having won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted. “The funny thing is, I’ve directed a few films, but I’ve only directed people who have just done a few films or are totally new to it. So it was very interesting working with Niels Arestrup and other actors who have done many, many films. It felt different, and they brought their own sense of storytelling as well.

“And Brad, of course, it was a very interesting thing to do. There were moments when it felt a little odd, but at the end of the day, who do you want, who do you trust more than your husband or wife, your family? So it worked out.”

Beat working with someone even closer, she reports.

“I did not love directing myself,” confesses Jolie Pitt, who did so for the first time here. “I found it very, very difficult. Maybe it’s because the character was so vulnerable and so it felt like I was very schizophrenic. That was very hard, and it was hard to also protect yourself because anybody who’s directing tends to not want to put themselves first, so you don’t tend to protect yourself as an actor. You tend to protect the other actors and throw yourself under the bus a bit.”

[WATCH: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt on the freedoms and challenges of making By the Sea]

But Jolie Pitt can’t stay away from films about war and its aftermath for long. The outspoken refugee advocate, who spent a good deal of this past summer lobbying for the waves of asylum seekers passing Malta and taking other routes toward Europe, is planning to direct a film about Loung Ung, a survivor of the post-Vietnam nightmare in Cambodia.

“Wars show us the best and the worst of human nature, it really polarizes the human condition,” she says. “I think it’s very important to understand history and to know where we’ve come from and how we overcome.”

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