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Awards

Gold Standard: AFI Fest: Angelina Jolie Pitt’s ‘By the Sea’ a ‘little bitty art film’ that may be too leisurely for some

AFI Fest opened Thursday night with the gala premiere of “By the Sea,” a deliberately paced, old-school European-styled drama about an unhappy married couple that just happens to star Hollywood’s most famous married couple, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Pitt.

Jolie Pitt, who wrote and directed the film, introduced “By the Sea” to the packed TCL Chinese Theatre audience as a movie that at its core is about grief. She began thinking about the film, she said, after her mother, actress Marcheline Bertrand, died of ovarian cancer in 2007.

“We did our best, as any artist does,” Jolie Pitt said, standing on the stage with Pitt and members of the movie’s ensemble. “We tried to be open, to be honest and to give of ourselves.”

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The movie’s tone, particularly for its first hour, can be summed up in this early exchange between Pitt’s character, a blocked, booze-hound writer, and Jolie Pitt’s morose ex-dancer shortly after they arrive at a charming seaside resort:

Pitt’s character (leaving their hotel room): Have a nice day.

Jolie Pitt’s character: I won’t.

Pitt’s character: I know. (Sigh)

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For a long time, that’s about the extent of the conversation, though we know something has driven a wedge between the couple who once were “the toast of New York.”

“Are we ever going to talk about it?” Pitt’s character blurts, frustrated.

It turns out: Not so much. Bottles of pills and alcohol are emptied, big sunglasses and even bigger hats are doffed. Then the sexless couple find common ground through a shared love of watching the honeymooners in the next room go at it. (Apparently, these newlyweds are so consumed by passion that they themselves don’t notice the sizable peep hole in the wall.)

Their voyeurism helps them burrow to the heart of their troubles, though Jolie Pitt’s character tips her hand early on as to the nature of the disconnect.

“By the Sea” is exactly the movie Pitt described on the red carpet: “We made a little bitty art film.” Universal has never considered this an awards-season contender because it’s languid (read: slow), takes its time to develop its story (read: repetitive) and is a bit light on the kind of character development that most audiences demand.

When the credits came up, the audience applauded tepidly, the enthusiasm markedly lower than the kind of greeting AFI movies typically receive.

“I admire her for making it,” one academy member told me at a party held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel following the gala. “It’s a real attempt to explore the kind of depression that can cripple you and sabotage your life.”

He turned to the date of a friend and asked, “What did you think?”

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“I couldn’t tell you,” she said. “I fell asleep.”

glenn.whipp@latimes.com

@glennwhipp


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