Angelina Jolie’s latest is ambitious in its small-scale story, but ultimately boring to watch
Few actors have made the jump from being in front of the camera to behind it and kept their dignity in tact, and Angelina Jolie joined those ranks back in 2011 with In The Land Of Blood And Honey. Since then and the WWII biopic Unbroken, Jolie’s taken the Euro-centric route on her next directorial feature By The Sea a building romance about disconnected people trying to find themselves in what amounts to a French timeshare, Jolie (who wrote, directed, produced, and stars) has created a gorgeously rendered world where the only thing that’s palpable is the boredom her characters feels when around one another.
Married couple Roland (real life hubby Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie) attempt to take a load off while on vacation in France, but the wedge in their relationship has only forced them apart. They can barely stand being in the same room as each other, and they can only do it when they’re gone off pills and booze. The film acts as a long, slow examination into their deteriorating love life, especially compared to that of Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud), the honeymooning couple next door. Roland and Vanessa obsessively watch Lea and Francois through a hole in their wall while their relationship only continues to suffer – and to an extent, so do we.
The film never gives us much context behind Roland and Vanessa’s dysfunction beyond Roland’s writer’s block, so they mull around and hate each other silently for reasons that are hard to understand. There’s a germ of an interesting idea in the couple living vicariously through their neighbors with that hole in the wall, but otherwise the film seems so occupied with aping the aesthetic of New Wave-era Jean-Luc Godard that it gets lost in the total monotony.
The cinematography makes up for the lack of tension. Every scene is immaculately staged and combined with the shimmering beach/landscape shots and Christian Berger’s steady camera hand, it’s all at least lovely to look at. But at almost 2.5 hours long, looks can only make up for so much, and while Jolie gives it her all, ‘By The Sea’ is better suited to Godard fans and hardcore cinephiles than it is to regular audiences.