‘By the Sea’
Director: Angelina Jolie Pitt
Stars: Angelina Jolie Pitt, Brad Pitt
3 (out of 5) Globes
In 2015, Angelina Jolie Pitt’s art film “By the Sea” has more in common with the stray evangelical dramas occasionally dropped into 3,000 theaters than it does any other mainstream release. The multiplex landscape has been homogenized into little but spectacles and franchises. That leaves the actress-filmmaker’s deeply personal (which is not to say strictly autobiographical) missive easy to overrate, because it’s different, as well as easy to underrate, because it’s different. It’s thrilling, if you will, to see something this ponderous, this brooding, this slow volleying for the same dollars that could be spent on “Spectre.” Where that film has everything, this has next-to-nothing. (Although both have dynamite scenery and vacation attire.)
The novelty of “By the Sea” — which is no less than a naked attempt to ape ’60s French and Italian movies, especially those, like “Contempt” and “La Notte,” about bad relationships — may quickly wear off. But what doesn’t wear off, either annoyingly or excitingly, depending on who you are, is whether or not it’s good. Has Jolie Pitt (as she's cumbersomely billed herself) made a flawed but noble film or one that’s just flawed? The answer may go back and forth, depending on the scene. But underneath the stilted dialogue and the sometimes dodgy, sometimes close-enough attempts at capturing ennui (or, as they say, Antoniennui) is an overly serious film worth taking seriously.
The apparently very happy Jolie Pitts play the very unhappy Vanessa and Roland. It’s an undisclosed time, maybe the ’60s, maybe the early ’70s, and they arrive — after a silent, Serge Gainsbourg-/Jane Birkin-backed drive in their swanky convertible — in a hotel in seaside France. (Actually it’s Gozo Island off of Italy.) He needs to write, but he spends most of his days fall-down drunk. She prefers to stay in and stand or sit or lean in languorous poses, sometimes with cool oversized glasses. It seems like all their problems will be thrown into even sharper relief by the young, spunky, usually barely clothed (if that) newlyweds (Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) who shack up next door.