BY THE SEA
FILM REVIEW - BY THE SEA
Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt.
Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent.
Beautiful, hypnotic and dreadfully self-indulgent.
It appears that Angelina Jolie has set out to make a Michelangelo Antonioni movie. And to be fair, she pulls it off. Right up to the clumsy resolution, that is.
Set in the mid-1970s, groovy sexy couple Roland and Vanessa Bertrand (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) breeze into a small coastal town in the South of France in a Citroën DS convertible with Serge Gainsbourg blasting from the stereo. Roland is a once successful author now blocked. Vanessa is tormented by an unspecified depression. She pops pills, he drinks. The only common ground the couple share is the voyeuristic pleasure of spying on the blissful newlyweds in the adjoining room, but Roland is shut down whenever he tries to address Vanessa’s problems.
Part labour of love, part vanity project, By the Sea will seem a little dull for some. It dumps the traditional “beginning/middle/end” narrative in favour of a window on a brief period of time with a languid, repetitive pace.
It looks stunning from start to finish (shot by veteran cinematographer Christian Berger [The White Ribbon] using natural light) with a rhythm that can be quite hypnotic. Jolie is mesmerising and exploits her unorthodox beauty to wordlessly project Vanessa’s suffering, but Pitt’s looks get in the way. He just can’t do “ugly” and appears to struggle with playing the role of Jolie’s husband convincingly. Odd.
And then there’s that climax. There are more than enough clues in the long silences, pregnant pauses and pointed stares without the need to have the reason for Vanessa’s depression spelled out for us. Part of Antonioni’s appeal was the possibility of projecting our own feelings and ideas onto the ambiguity. The unnecessary choice of providing a neat narrative resolution abandons all sense of mystery. By the Sea is beautiful, hypnotic and dreadfully self-indulgent.