By the Sea (2 stars)

By the Sea

Angelina Jolie Pitt directs herself and husband Brad in a frustratingly self-indulgent drama

Hollywood’s most glamorous power couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt come unstuck in a dour, self-produced drama, written and directed by Jolie – now going by Jolie Pitt – a la 60s French arthouse gone tediously awry. The heart sinks the moment a French chanteuse’s thin warbling of a drippy pop ballad chimes in to accompany the opening credits, as Pitt and Jolie Pitt’s New Yorkers Roland and Vanessa drive through the countryside in a convertible to a quiet seaside hotel. We seem to be in the South of France (although the film was shot, beautifully, by Christian Berger in Malta) and we eventually twig it’s the 70s because Roland is a novelist who uses a portable typewriter instead of a laptop, the clothes are hideous, and Serge Gainsbourg is always on the radio.

These two have a terribly strained relationship. Roland tries to write but drinks from morning until night at the local bar. Pill-popping Vanessa wafts between bed and balcony wearing an array of negligees and a permanent expression of dissatisfaction. They don’t talk about ‘it’, but something has created a lot of anger, grief and resentment between them. By the time we learn what ‘it’ is we are beyond caring, so perverse, peevish and uncommunicative is Vanessa. Meanwhile the round the clock canoodling of the honeymooning young French couple (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) in the next room arouses her prurient interest. The voyeuristic game that develops is mildly diverting, provoking a crisis that will make or break the Americans’ marriage.

Pitt comes out of this best, sincere as the devastated drunk who still loves his wife and yearns to yank her out of her torpor. The impressive supporting cast, which includes Niels Arestrup as the genial proprietor of the local bar, are done few favours by their director, but the biggest mystery is how Jolie Pitt could have crafted such a maddeningly languid, shallow character for herself. Where her first two directorial outings (In the Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken) at least showed serious cinematic ambition, this third film is such a disappointingly self-indulgent, vapid vanity project it almost feels like a parody.

General release from Fri 11 Dec.

By the Sea

  • 2 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Angelina Jolie
  • Written by: Angelina Jolie Pitt
  • Cast: Angelina Jolie Pitt, Brad Pitt, Mélanie Laurent, Niels Arestrup
  • UK release: 11 December 2015

Former dancer Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) and her husband Roland (Pitt) stay in a French seaside town as their marriage threatens to unravel. Dour, self-produced drama from which Pitt's sincere performance comes out best; Jolie Pitt's third film as a director is a serious disappointment, a vapid vanity project compared to the…