Would you expect anything less than arresting beauty from a film starring Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt? But the actress, who also wrote and directed this film about an estranged married couple struggling with grief, says that setting By the Sea in the 1970s wasn’t without its aesthetic challenges. “It makes me happy when people say the movie looks period but also beautiful,” she says. “I was little in the ’70s, and to see our old pictures, well…” She laughs. “It was not great.”
Filming took place in Malta last August, with the quiet island of Goza standing in for seaside France. Cinematographer Christian Berger (The White Ribbon) kept the look of the production as realistic as possible. “It’s all natural light so it doesn’t feel artificial,” Jolie Pitt says. “When we did scenes, we didn’t have big lighting setups in our face for close-ups.” That stripped-down intimacy helped with some of the film’s heavier moments. “We watch this couple go off the track and we wait to see if it gets more unhealthy, or if they will recover,” she says. “I think too often people go through very painful transformative experiences and they don’t stay together. They abandon each other.”
The reverse was true for the newly wedded stars — who worked on the film during their honeymoon — though it certainly wasn’t without its darker moments. “It was an emotionally charged set,” Jolie Pitt says. “Even though the characters are very different from us, when you act you still express real emotion.” Luckily, the couple’s six kids were on hand to ground them. “It’s impossible to bring your work home with you when you have to snap out of it for your children,” she says. “It wasn’t easy for either of us, but when we walked away, we were closer than we had been.”
By the Sea opens Nov. 13.