By The Sea

November 26, 2015

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“…a fascinating mess.”

By The Sea

Year: 2015
Rating: MA
Director: Angelina Jolie-Pitt

Niels Arestrup, Angelina Jolie-Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Brad Pitt, Melvil Poupaud

Distributor: Universal
Released: November 26, 2015
Running Time: 132 minutes
Worth: $8.50

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“…a fascinating mess.”

Brad Pitt plays Roland, a boozy, Hemingway-esque writer who spends his time in bars talking up his own misery and getting nothing done. Vanessa (Angelina Jolie-Pitt) spends her time lounging around their hotel room, made up like a garish China doll doped on wine and Quaaludes. She spurns the advances of her husband and takes to watching the newlyweds next-door copulate through a pipe hole in the wall. When Roland begins to watch as well, she takes to courting the couple and makes active attempts to sabotage their marriage by imposing on them elements of her own neuroses.

Set in lush coastal France, Jolie-Pitt’s third film behind the camera is an unabashed homage to 1960s & ‘70s European art-cinema, filled with extended moments of silence and brooding marital malaise. Given his songs on the soundtrack and the voyeuristic nature of the material, By the Sea is somewhat reminiscent of Serge Gainsbourg’s directorial vanity project, even if Antonioni was more of an aspiration. Unfortunately, By the Sea is less L’Avventura than it is Je t’aime moi non plus, or for that matter, Swept Away.

Part of the reason, albeit inadvertent, is that Pitt and Jolie struggle as Roland and Vanessa to overcome the magnitude of their own celebrity. The impression of Brad and Angelina playing charades is often difficult to suppress, especially when Jolie-Pitt as a screenwriter, who underwent a very public hysterectomy, confuses fiction by playing a woman gone to pieces because she is reproductively barren.

That aside, the dialogue – from the Eyes Wide Shut school of subtlety – is ham fisted, and at over two hours, the film runs far longer than it merits, given how very little happens and how repetitive it gets. More positively, the cinematography is gorgeous, and it may indeed be the setting that makes this beguiling to watch in spite of itself. As a filmmaker, Jolie-Pitt is competent, but her judgement is confounded. By the Sea is a fascinating mess.

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