Film review: By the Sea - Angelina Jolie’s vacuous homage to 1970s art-house dramas
Better to leave middle-class, middlebrow movie making to the French rather than turn out superficial, derivative and clumsy fare like this
Angelina Jolie - who goes by Angelina Jolie Pitt nowadays - proved herself an excellent director with Unbroken. But this misguided, European-inflected tale only plays like a bad copy of the small-scale, character-driven vignettes directed by Eric Rohmer. While those French classics succeeded with their idiosyncratic, sometimes provocative, characters, By the Sea is just bland.
The setting is the picturesque south of France (actually Malta) in the early 1970s. Glamourous Vanessa (Jolie) and her writer husband Roland (Brad Pitt) turn up at a beautiful hotel, tired of each other’s company and teeming with middle-class ennui.
Vanessa lazes around moodily while Roland gets drunk and fails to write a book. Vanessa thinks that Roland has eyes for the young newlywed in the room next door but he denies it. The couple then find a hole in the wall to spy on the newlyweds making love.
The period setting is pleasantly rendered, but Jolie’s super-sculptured figure looks anachronistic, and proves distracting. Jolie seems to be modelling her disgust-fuelled heroine on Brigitte Bardot in Contempt, and that just serves to remind the viewer how emotionally resonant Bardot was in Godard’s bitter opus. Pitt, meanwhile, is clumsy in a role which demands deep introspection and subtlety.
An emphasis on superficial gloss and prettiness suggest that this is a vanity project driven by Jolie the actress, rather than a serious attempt by Jolie the director. As the French are still very capable of making middle-class, middlebrow dramas themselves, why Jolie felt the need to emulate one is a mystery.
By the Sea opens on November 26