Synopsis: Set in France during the mid-1970s, Vanessa, a former dancer, and her husband Roland, an American writer, travel the country together. They seem to be growing apart, but when they linger in one quiet, seaside town they begin to draw close to some of its more vibrant inhabitants, such as a local bar/café-keeper and a hotel owner.
Release Date: November 13, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
Angelina Jolie (or Angelina Jolie Pitt, as she’s now known) really wants to be a director. Her behind-the-camera debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was a wreck. Her follow-up, Unbroken, still fell flat, despite the best efforts of a Coen Brothers script and a first-rate cast. Well, for her third foray into directing, the self-indulgent By the Sea, she brings along her husband, the one and only Brad Pitt (Fury, World War Z). Unfortunately, his presence doesn’t help much.
By the Sea stars Jolie Pitt and Pitt as Vanessa and Roland, a fragilely married New York couple who comes to a seaside French resort to “get away from it all” for a while. Roland is a writer who ostensibly wants to use the time to work, but instead spends his days drinking with the hotel owner, Michel (Niels Arestrup from War Horse). Meanwhile, Vanessa holes herself up in their room and sleeps, only occasionally stepping out onto the balcony to smoke. While out there, she meets François (The Edge‘s Melvil Poupaud), a young man who is staying in the next room with his new wife, Lea (Mélanie Laurent from Enemy). When Vanessa finds a hole in the wall that lets her spy on François and Lea, she begins to live vicariously through the couple. Hoping that her new energy will help their marriage, Roland plays along, but soon discovers that there is more to Vanessa’s plan that simple voyeurism.
On the surface, By the Sea looks like a romance. In actuality, it’s darker than that, but that doesn’t mean that it’s more interesting, only that it’s not all wine and roses. Most of the movie is made up of tense, awkward conversations filled with uncomfortable silences between Roland and Vanessa where they really don’t communicate at all, but everyone knows that something is amiss with their marriage. By the Sea is the cinematic equivalent of vaguebooking, that phenomenon where people post generic statements on social media indicating that something is wrong, then tell those who respond with questions that they don’t want to talk about it. Vanessa makes it perfectly clear that something is bothering her, but shuns Roland’s attempts to breach the subject and give her the attention that she is so desperately seeking. Of course, the cause of her distress is eventually revealed, but by then the audience is so annoyed by her character that it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun to see her unhappy, because she is so unlikeable.
By the Sea is a highly personal passion project for Angelina Jolie Pitt. Unfortunately, that passion does not translate to the screen at all; it comes off as more of a vanity film. It’s a long, torturous ordeal of a movie, and not just because it clocks in at two hours and twelve minutes. The tedium has little to do with the running time; the movie is so repetitive that it could probably be trimmed down to ninety minutes and still feel too long. The bottom line is that By the Sea takes forever to go absolutely nowhere.
So, judging from the mediocrity of By the Sea, it looks as if Angelina Jolie Pitt should leave the writing and directing to those who may be better suited for it. However, there is a positive takeaway from Jolie Pitt’s work on the film; she seems to have found the best false eyelash glue on the planet. Those things stay on her eyelids for the entire duration of the movie, whether she’s sleeping, showering, or just soaking in the tub.
The best reason, and quite possibly the only reason, to see By the Sea is the sheer aesthetic beauty of the film. Shot on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea by Christian Berger (The White Ribbon), the film is more convincing than a tourist advertisement with how it gorgeously captures the clear, blue water of the ocean and the fresh, clean air of the countryside. It’s not just the external shots that are interesting, though; Berger does his best to turn every shot in the film into an attention grabber, using lots of fun tricks like follow focus and camera motion to keep things visually engaging. Berger plays with camera angles and point of view as well, treating the viewer to plenty of surprising images. The story may be a complete wash, but the photography in By the Sea most certainly is not.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Angelina Jolie
- Producer(s): Angelina JolieBrad Pitt
- Screenwriter(s): Angelina Jolie
- Cast: Brad Pitt (Roland)Angelina Jolie (Vanessa)Mélanie Laurent (Lea) Melvil Poupaud (François)Niels Arestrup (Michel)Richard Bohringer (Patrice)
- Editor(s): Martin Pensa
- Cinematographer: Christian Berger
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick
- Casting Director(s): Edward Said
- Music Score: Gabriel Yared
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USAFrance