By the Sea Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent. Directed by Angelina Jolie Pitt. Rated R. Opens Friday.
After directing two serious dramas about the horrors of war (In the Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken), Angelina Jolie switches gears substantially with By the Sea, a languid relationship drama heavily influenced by European art movies of the 1960s and ’70s. While Unbroken proved that Jolie was competent at handling a slick Hollywood product, By the Sea finds her on shakier ground when it comes to realizing a more distinctive artistic vision.
Jolie (credited here as Angelina Jolie Pitt) and her real-life husband Brad Pitt play an unhappily married couple on vacation (or perhaps in self-imposed exile) in a lovely seaside French town. Although both Pitt’s Roland, a blocked writer, and Jolie’s Vanessa, a former dancer, are beautiful people with impeccable fashion sense, their life is full of ennui, thanks to a previous tragedy maddeningly alluded to throughout the movie only to be revealed in a thudding anticlimax after more than two hours of brooding.
Jolie has clearly seen a lot of Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini movies, but By the Sea looks more like a perfume ad or a fashion spread (Vanessa spends a lot of time reading Vogue) than a bold work of auteurist cinema. It’s a deeply felt personal statement that ends up with very little to say.