Angelina Jolie's third feature film, By the Sea (she's previously directed In the Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken), explores a much more intimate and private narrative. From what I can tell from the trailer, it follows a couple who are having some serious issues within their relationship. Joile wrote, directed, and acted in this film with her husband Brad Pitt (the last time they acted alongside each other was in the 2005 film Mr. and Mrs. Smith).
One of the most intriguing things about this trailer other than the small, contained narrative is the way that Jolie directed the film. Even though the trailer is only about 75 seconds long, she manages to tell a lot of the story through the visuals. There are three things that stand out in this trailer with the use of her camera; the smoking of cigarettes, the close up of hands, and the distance between the actors and the camera.
It may seem like those three things are innocuous but they way Jolie puts them all together helps create visual poetry, a story told not through sound/dialogue but through sight.
Above, we have two moments from the trailer where we see our characters smoking cigarettes alone. While these short scenes seem completely unrelated to each other, they actually tell us a lot about our couple in the film.
Jolie smokes in a doorway, covered in sunlight. Her physical position can be looked at as a metaphor for where she is in her marriage. She's both in and out of it. Also, her position in the doorway tells us even more, she's facing the doorway, looking outside. Subconsciously, this tells us that she's literally looking for an out of her relationship. Her expression is cold and worrisome. We can really get a sense of what she's feeling in a couple seconds.
Pitt on the other hand, smokes in a dark room. Tapping his head in frustration. This almost foreshadows the way he treats Jolie later in the trailer. He smokes out of frustration and anger. And while they're both self-destructive (since they smoke and smoking will literally kill you) Pitt's character seems to be a little more self-destructive than Jolie's. By sitting in a room without windows, its as if he wants to live in his anger and frustration. He's not smoking for solace, he's doing it to be surrounded by negativity.
The two close-ups of the character's hands in the trailer are very telling of where the trailer ends up. It gives the trailer -- and the film -- a visceral tone. We, as humans, obviously use our hands for almost everything. These two shots comment on that exact idea.
The first close up, reflects the positive things that are made with hands. Pitt's character is writing and the shot is very deliberate and its composition is stellar. We get a sense of who he is and the struggle he's having as a writer. The page is blank and we can see the moment before the creation of art. Writing, in this sense, is analogous to all art. And this is emphasized through the way it was shot.
The second, is quick and fast. The motion of picking up a glass, one we can assume is used for the consumption of alcohol, happens almost instantaneously. Jolie doesn't let us sit on this image, it hits our eyes and leaves within seconds. It goes back to the visceral tone. The way the glass is picked up is almost violent -- which, again, reminds us of the film's unsettling content.
Jolie really creates a great environment through the sense of distance/depth within her shot selection. She gives us frames within the frame. And it really magnifies the fact that we are outside of the story. And while this can be alienating when other directors do it, she composes these shots in a way that really make us feel helpless. This emphasizes the film's unsettling nature.
In the first shot above, it's sort of unclear for us to know what we should be focusing on. The table in the center of the frame is a natural focal point and then your eyes end up drifting to the left or right of the frame. This happens because each side of the frame is illuminated. We have light coming through the curtains on the left side of the frame and on the right we have light from the bathroom. Eventually though, Jolie tells us to look at the right side of the frame by acting in an (almost) dramatic fashion. The motion of her twirling the towel around herself immediately catches our attention. And this is important because this scene trains us for the final shot of the trailer.
When viewing the second shot above our eyes instantly scan the room. In the first shot, Jolie teaches us her visual language. She lets us know that each area within the frame tells a different story. And in the final (or second) shot, she does this beautifully. On the right (see the pattern?) we have Jolie (let's assume that's her character) laying on the floor motionless and on the left, we have Pitt's character leaving the room. Our eyes are naturally drawn to him and his movement but with the last scene in mind, we know to look to the right to find our female lead. And when we see her, the shot becomes terrifying. We don't know what happened or what the circumstances are but we know it isn't good.
Angelina Jolie's visual language and the way she uses it to construct a visual poem is something that definitely excites me. I haven't seen any of her previous films (I just haven't gotten around to it yet) but I am excited to look them up and watch them after seeing her directorial skill in this short trailer.
In a little over a minute, Jolie made some seasoned directors look like amateurs and that's something that increases my anticipation for this film even though the subject matter seems kind of hard to deal with.
By the Sea will be in theaters on November 13th, 2015