Flawed but ambitious
stirred and aroused by the voyeurism, snapping her from her grief. It’s surely a great irony that one of the most famouswomenin the world has made a movie somuchabout the maladies of envy and the titillations of watching and being watched.
As a movie, the euro retro By the Sea— a kind of Who’s Afraid of VirginiaWoolf transplanted to Eric Rohmer’s France— is too limp, too artfully posed to work. The singletear moments of sadness, the overdone presence of props (many cigarettes and hats) and the sometimes stilted dialogue make for a curiously wooden atmosphere that eventually stifles the considerable star-power of Pitt and Jolie Pitt.
Pitt’sHemingway-esque writer, occasionally speaking French, comes through more clearly. Jolie Pitt’s Vanessa, porcelain and restrained, does justice to Vanessa’s all-consuming grief but her performance doesn’t supply the melodrama the force it needs.
But as a curiosity and an experiment, By the Sea is an intriguing artifact and a remarkable bookend to their previous portrait of matrimony, Mr. & Mrs. Smith. To label it a “vanity project” as some have done, is an injustice. Like Jolie Pitt’s previous directorial efforts ( In the Land of Blood andHoney, and Unbroken), By the Sea is flawed but ambitious, certainly aiming for something distinctive and honest.