By Matt Brennan and Ryan Lattanzio | Thompson on Hollywood November 4, 2015 at 11:39AM
Angelina Jolie Pitt's hotly anticipated "By the Sea," her first collaboration with Brad Pitt since "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005), witnesses the husband-wife filmmaking team do it all, or nearly so: they co-produced and co-star in the 1970s-set drama, written and directed by Jolie Pitt as an homage to the kinds of intimate films she likes to see. Now, Jolie Pitt is opening up about the project, which Universal has slated for a Nov. 13 theatrical release after it world premieres at AFI FEST—an awards season launching pad for films such as "American Sniper" and "Selma"—on Nov. 5. (Watch a new featurette on the film above.)
The trailer suggests Roberto Rossellini, who directed his wife Ingrid Bergman in a trilogy of Italian-set dramas in the early 1950s, by way of Ernest Hemingway: a sun-splashed portrait of a couple in crisis, experiencing ennui and despair in the south of France. (The film was shot in Malta.) As Vanessa (Jolie Pitt), a former dancer, and Roland (Pitt), a novelist, arrive at their sleepy destination, her self-medicated mourning clashes with his desire to pull her out from under, though Jolie Pitt is adamant that the film isn't autobiographical. "Brad and I have our issues," she told Vogue, "but if the characters' were even remotely close to our problems we couldn’t have made the film."
Yesterday, Jolie Pitt added further details in an interview with the New York Times, in which she admits, "I know some people are going to hate it. Some are going to like it. But it was important to me to feel like an artist again."
With several health scares and her marriage to Pitt recently behind her, the director also had to make herself vulnerable as an actor in order to capture the character's frailties, appearing nude after a double mastectomy and exploring a marriage that's coming apart.
"As a director I had to be very sure, very strong in opinion, stable," Jolie Pitt tells the Times. "My character? She shouldn’t direct anything. Not even traffic. She’s a mess. The duality—being a director, then having to become a person that vulnerable — would often be hard."
As Jolie Pitt told the Directors Guild of America this summer, cinematographer Christian Berger, Michael Haneke's right-hand man, helped create the stripped-down, naturalistic aesthetic. "There's actually very little technical light in the room," she said, describing a system that involves using "paniflectors" to illuminate the actors. "It's all based on using an outside source of light and using reflectors, a white plate, in front of the actors. And it felt like doing a play. You're not conscious of the light and so you're also not conscious of staying in the light or how you look. It made me act differently and made me direct differently too."
There was also an "Eyes Wide Shut" element behind the scenes.
"I'd be directing myself and him in a scene where we're having a fight, and I'd be pulling out the parts [of him] that have an aggression toward me or when you're frustrated with each other—it was very heavy," Jolie Pitt said in the DGA interview. "We kept joking that all of the crew felt like they were living in a house where the parents were fighting and you don't know where to stand or where to look."
"I’m the first female director that Brad’s ever worked with," she added in her interview with the Times. "That doesn’t seem right when you think about it."
The emotional intensity of the shoot means she probably won't make a film like this again, and indeed her upcoming projects are politically charged and international in scope. Currently in pre-production is "First They Killed My Father," an adaptation of Cambodian author and human rights activist Loung Ung's memoir of life under the Khmer Rouge, and also in the works is "Africa," about paleoanthropologist and conservationist Dr. Richard Leakey's work against ivory poachers in Kenya.