BY THE SEA (USA|France/15A/12mins)
Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt. Starring Angelina Jolie Pitt, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup
THE PLOT: Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and her husband of 14 years Roland (Brad Pitt) arrive in a small French seaside town. Roland, a writer, is searching for inspiration, but mostly spends his days drinking, Vanessa spends her time cooped up in their hotel and popping pills. When a young couple takes the room next door, and Vanessa finds a way to spy on them, the older couple suddenly find a way to spend time together, and a way to finally talk about their problems.
THE VERDICT: First things first; ‘By the Sea’ can be boiled down to just this; two hours of horrible people doing horrible things to one another. It is not that Angelina Jolie Pitt is a bad director per se – last year’s Unforgiven had issues, but as a solid effort – but ‘By the Sea’ is a slow moving, underwritten domestic strife drama, in which the characters learn very little.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Angelina Jolie Pitt stated that the idea for ‘By the Sea’ came from the grief of her mother dying, and the love she had for movies from the 1970s. This is a noble gesture on the director’s part, but her screenplay for the film is not one that lives up to this noble inspiration. Vanessa is drawn as caustic and nasty, shunning even friendly chatter from those who encounter her; Roland is little more than an unhappy alcoholic and the rest of the characters are two dimensional and thin. Melanie Laurent tries her best with what she is given, as does Melvil Poupaud as Francois, but the standout performance is from Niels Arestrup as barkeeper Michel, who brings genuine emotion and wisdom to his character. Jolie Pitt and Pitt, for their parts, struggle to make their vile and cruel characters interesting and, for the most part, fail.
As director, Jolie Pitt brings no urgency to the film, allowing it to crawl through its 2 hour running time. Much time is spent watching characters look at one another and, when the big change comes with the discovery that Roland and Vanessa can spuy on a young couple having sex, the film turns from dull to creepy and dull. There seems to be no reason for these characters to do what they do – spying certainly doesn’t help their sex life or their emotional relationship with one another, in fact, it seems to make it even worse. Nudity abounds in the film, for no apparent reason, and the characters seem to learn nothing from their cruelty to one another, meaning the story has no resolution.
In all, ‘By the Sea’ is a two-hour journey through the lives of two people who hate each other, and are willing to be nasty to each other to entertain themselves. The trouble is, that this is not all that entertaining to watch. The cast struggle to make their characters relatable and the screenplay makes a big song and dance about revealing secrets; all of which the audience will see coming a mile off. For all its cinematic beauty, ‘By the Sea’ is as languid as its characters, and never truly goes anywhere.
Review by Brogen Hayes

By the Sea
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Critics have been pouring scorn and flinging vitriol at Angelina Jolie Pitt’s third feature, By The Sea. Can it really be that bad? Not really. Not to this reviewer anyway. But it does leave a lot to be desired. Set in the 1970s (to remove many of the distractions of modern life, according to Jolie Pitt), By The Sea focuses on a glamourous American married couple travelling through coastal France. Roland (Brad Pitt) is a failed writer who prefers to drown his shortcomings at the end of a bottle. Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) is a former dancer who is suffering from an unspoken trauma that has blighted their marriage. After 14 years together, they don’t have much to say to each other anymore. So, Roland spends his time in the bar talking to world-weary bartender Michel (Niels Arestrup). Vanessa stays in her hotel room, reflecting on the past. She also befriends the newlywed couple next door, Francois (Melvil Poupaud) and Lea (Melanie Laurent). She uses contact with them to taunt Roland, by suggesting that they might cheat on each other. She also spies on them through a hole in the wall, looking at what might have been her and Roland 14 years earlier, in happier and more innocent times. They’re growing apart, but there might be a sliver of hope in saving this fragile marriage… Filmed in scenic Maltese locations during Pitt and Jolie Pitt’s honeymoon, By The Sea is nothing if not ambitious. It actually feels like a film from the 1970s, like something Michelangelo Antonioni might make. It’s beautifully shot by Christian Berger and there’s a lush, romantic score from Gabriel Yared, so there’s no faulting the technical credentials. The problem with the film resides mostly in Jolie Pitt. Her story rings hollow, focusing on impossibly attractive people who seem to have it all, but also have first world problems. This is a story that is about as ‘movie’ as you can get. These are not particularly interesting characters – Roland seems to be stuck in a rut, but doesn’t know how to shake himself out of it. Vanessa just lies there, like a constantly scowling pussycat with her claws at the ready. Watching the two of them have a go at each other is entertaining, but an audience should rightfully demand more depth from such characters. It’s hard to shake off the image of this being a vanity project for Jolie Pitt, but it isn’t as bad as it could have been. It remains quietly watchable even during its slow passages and Arestrup and Laurent make for good support in more realistic performances. Whereas her previous feature, the stirring Unbroken, had a heart, it seems that By The Sea lost it somewhere in Davy Jones’ Locker. Jolie Pitt hasn’t sunk to new depths here, so there’s still a chance that the one truly great film she wants to direct is still fermenting in her brain. By The Sea is a conflicted film that can’t really come recommended. Maybe just one for the curious like this reviewer. **