This review may contain mild spoilers
We can only praise By the Sea for its stunning cinematography of this city called Malta. Located somewhere in the central Mediterranean, the beautiful shots of Christian Berger (Cache, The White Ribbon) provide a poetic background for the romance, however, can’t cover up the handicapped drama of the unhappy married couple here.
The problem comes just shortly after we’re introduced to Vanessa (Angeline Jolie) and Roland (Brad Pitt), who are beautiful but boring. They easily become beautiful bores with those undeveloped sad facial expressions throughout the film. And when we can only expect to see an equally stirring conflict in the midst of contradiction, it grows to no avail.
Despite the glamorous elements this flick teases us with, By the Sea lacks of ambition to light up the conflict. The script is minimum and even when the pair finally talk, their words show no depth and no hint of the trouble breaking into their relationship. Just if they being silent were carefully scripted to keep audience in suspense, we could be more tolerant. Unfortunately, our waiting doesn’t pay off.
Following the silence, there’s also nothing in particular special about Jolie and Pitt’s performances. We’re mostly seeing the pair linger in glam in their new residence, adapt with the new air, and exacerbates each other even only with few words.
Pitt plays Roland, a no aspiring writer with a last doomed book. He finally decides to move to Malta, looks for a new inspiration while his wife, Vanessa, an ex-dancer, seems to object to his decision. But it’s not the absence of dancing making her so depressed during the first half of the movie. There’s a sad truth behind her stinky behavior towards Roland, the truth which has made their marriage is no longer desirable and emotionally stagnant.
If this were Jolie’s directorial debut, we wouldn’t easily see this flick straight to the downsides. But apparently, By the Sea follows Jolie’s previous two successful films, which deal with more tricky materials; romance during war (In the Land of Blood and Honey) and a biography of Louis Zamperini (Unbroken).
Only when Vanessa finds a small peephole inside her room, the story finally finds a pace to follow and a tense to build, however only to end up with an unsatisfying result. The horny newlyweds living next to her door indeed wakes up her desire for Roland but never reaches the climax we anticipate. There’s a sad truth, an unfinished business we call it, which desperately need a solution to let this visual agony over.
By the time it’s time for settlement, the sad truth is finally revealed but far too late to hit off. And as we don’t expect but predict, such miss turns the truth into a cliche, an exaggerated sense of insecurity which causes Vanessa to pull herself away rather than accept the truth. As a result, we feel only little sympathy for her agony, despite the truth has traumatized her life ever since.
There’s no official statement of Jolie calling this flick as her vanity project but seemingly her ego as director pours in resulting in every Vanessa’s act is based on her own free will. She exacerbates her husband when she wants to and desires him back like she used to, signifies that such relationship will never prevail, both on screen and real world.
Lucky that Jolie and Pitt’s real-life relationship is far to be compared with their characters’. It’s just their 2nd appearance together doesn’t end up as desirable and steamy as they were once in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005). Seems that their definition of love and relationship has much changed.
Director: Angelina Jolie
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent
Duration: 122 mins