By the Sea
dir-scr Angelina Jolie Pitt
prd Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt
with Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Melvil Poupaud, Niels Arestrup, Richard Bohringer, Marika Green, Sarah Naudi, Aldo Buontempo, Philippe Martinet, Francis Xuereb, George Camilleri
release US 13.Nov.15, UK 11.Dec.15
15/US Universal 2h02
By the Sea
Scenes from a marriage: Pitt and Jolie

laurent poupaud arestrup
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
By the Sea In a beautiful setting bustling with life, this enticing film feels dry and oddly static. Everything on-screen looks great, but there's nothing about the story or its loathsome central characters that makes us want to stick with it for two slowly churning hours.

In the mid-1970s, Americans Roland and Vanessa (Pitt and Jolie) decamp to a villa on the Mediterranean to restore balance to their damaged relationship. A blocked writer, Roland is hoping to get his next novel going, visiting the local cafe, where he befriends the barman Michel (Arestrup). Meanwhile, Vanessa rarely ventures out, popping pills as she languishes in their lavish suite. Eventually both become intrigued by neighbouring guest Francois (Poupaud) and his new wife Lea (Laurent). But this adventure in voyeurism can't obscure the fact that there's something Roland and Vanessa need to talk about.

The film opens with the couple silently driving through the dramatic countryside, descending down a winding road into a claustrophobic cove, as tiny annoyances are immediately apparent. Then in their suite, they immediately rearrange the furniture. Yes, this is how subtle the entire film is. It's also sun-drenched and achingly stylish as this glamorous duo takes a jagged odyssey of accusations, suspicions and lusty reconnections. These two people seem think that if they can't be happy, no one should be.

Both Pitt and Jolie deliver bizarrely self-conscious performances, striking poses and blurting out dialog, Roland fuelled by alcohol and Vanessa by anger. This is effective at emphasising their inner pain as their offhanded rapport shifts in and out of darker shadows. But while it's delicate and complex, there isn't a moment that feels real. Their heightened acting contrasts hugely with the naturalistic work of the gifted French cast, who find more character detail in a throwaway glance than the stars do in a fiery argument.

The film is gorgeously shot by Christian Berger, with a textured Gabriel Yared score. And the settings add some fascinating angles to the characters and situations. But the central story is eye-rollingly corny, as Roland and Vanessa spark up their relationship by spying on a honeymooning couple in bed. There are some issues at play here that catch the attention, as these two characters refuse to fall into an obvious trajectory to either come together or fall apart. The Jolie Pitts are trying to explore intimacy, jealousy and grief, but the film is too superficial to resonate.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, violence 7.Dec.15

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