By the Sea opens up with beautiful panoramas of the Mediterranean as a couple winds down the road in a red convertible. They stop at a bar in Malta (she downs her glass of wine in one swallow) then make their way to an upscale hotel on the water. It’s noticeable how silent they are—the woman barely speaks and then only when spoken to. They unpack and rearrange the room in a way that tells you he is a writer. The couple, Roland (Pitt) and Vanessa (Jolie), do not appear like people on a holiday, but in response to someone asking them why they’ve come, Roland answers cryptically that they just needed to get away.
As time goes by, we can see that Roland is frustrated with his wife, but speaks lovingly of her. He goes out every day to write (which he is having a hard time doing) and drink, and comes back in the afternoon or evening and drinks. He has good conversations with Michel (Arestrup), the local bartender, but not really with anyone else. Vanessa has been in the room all day, except maybe for a quick trip to town for supplies. He comes in and chats a bit, but she says little. He approaches her; she rejects him; and finally he says in exasperation, “Are we ever going to talk about it?” It’s a long time before we find out what “it” is.
The couple next door on their honeymoon, Lea (Laurent) and Francois (Poupaud), cautiously approach Roland and Vanessa about socializing—playing cards, shopping, sailing—which they accept rather tentatively. This is odd, because we have seen that Roland and Vanessa have clearly developed a keen interest in them (I won’t tell you why or how, although it turns out to be rather a silly and unrealistic artifice),
I would never have thought that I could be bored looking at the painterly Mediterranean seascape with blue sky, puffy white clouds, and a quaint fishing boat, but have to admit that I did get impatient in this film with so little action and so much scenery and other views of the high life. Vanessa is always dressed and made up elegantly, as is Lea next door. It’s obvious no one has to worry about expenses.
Although I enjoyed the music (Gabriel Yared) and cinematography (Christian Berger), it was not enough to sustain audience attention with so little going on. Jolie and her editors should have cut at least a half-hour or more from the film. The last twenty minutes actually had drama that was interesting and made the two main characters more understandable. Too bad it came so late.
Jolie is gorgeous in this movie—in fact, most of the characters looked like “The Beautiful People” on some TV program—and hers and Pitt’s scenes together when there is dialog and action are up to their usual quality, as are Laurent and Poupaud. But I particularly enjoyed Niels Arestrup’s character, a kindly, thoughtful, older man grieving for his dead wife, but full of gently delivered sound advice for Roland.
Plan to enjoy the seaside scenes; there is not much action or dialog until the last part of By the Sea.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland