Malta is beautiful and so is Angelina. The story--not so much.
By the Sea
Director: Angelina Jolie Pitt (Unbroken)
Screenplay: Jolie Pitt
Cast: Brad Pitt (Thelma and Louise), Angelina Jolie (Mr. and Mrs. Smith)
Runtime: 132 min.
by John DeSando
“If you really love someone, you want more for them than you want for yourself. Do you understand?” Michel (Niels Arestrup)
By the Sea nobly tries to explicate the above quote by the wise bar keep, Michel. Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) and Roland (Brad Pitt) are visiting the central-casting beautiful Malta to work on their marriage, albeit through the media of drink and voyeurism. It’s the ‘70’s and they’re celebrities, he an unproductive writer and she a retired dancer.
They’re not Burton and Taylor, and the film lacks the passion for any imitation of that famous duo. What it does have are a stunning production design and incomparably romantic location. The first half of the film labors over the small parts of their life—he places her large frame glasses upright because she puts them glass-side down; she digs him about his lack of writing and constant drinking.
However, once the newly-married couple, Lea (Melanie Laurent) and Francois (Melvil Poupaud) arrives, the story gets energy and more eye candy as Brangelina look through a peep hole at the couple’s sexual antics. Apparently, this is all that is needed to rekindle the marriage of the older couple.
Well, more action is to come with the big reveal, not much of a revelation I must say. The disconcerting part of that not-so-mysterious surprise is the straight-forward explanation, hardly elegant, a bit too prosaic for a film that regularly intercuts with symbols, e.g., a fisherman in his boat, forcing you to think of the figurative implications and then unnecessarily explicating it.
Although Vanessa is a beauty whom the camera loves and who seems to preen for every shot, I can’t help but think Angelina as writer and director has framed a character much like herself. That narcissism gets boring quickly. The prominence of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg’s Jane B. on the soundtrack reinforces Jolie Pitt’s infatuation with herself.
Like me you’ll be booking passage to Malta soon, but you’re unlikely to take away from this film any hints about saving your marriage or finding places in the Oscar nominations for this mediocre work (except, of course, for cinematography!).
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com