Angelina Jolie's time behind the camera has been an interesting one, to say the least. Unbroken rode the crest of American Sniper's patriotic wave successfully, despite it being a somewhat lacklustre affair. Her previous effort, In The Land Of Blood And Honey, was a little-seen drama set during the Bosnian War that garnered controversy in Serbia and Eastern Europe at large.
By The Sea, on the other hand, seems like her most conventional film to date. As well as directing, Jolie-Pitt and her husband, Brad, star as an on-screen couple who are touring the French coast whilst they each struggle with their own issues. Brad's character is a writer who has no inspiration whilst Angelina's character is a former dancer who's dealing with an unexplained depression that is slowly killing her. They check into a gorgeous hotel and begin to settle down when their relative peace - such as it is - is interrupted Melanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud, two newlyweds who have taken up residence in the room beside them. Angelina's character discovers a peephole in her room that sees right into their neighbour's bed. The slow disintegration in their marriage is halted as they observe Laurent and Poupaud's marriage with a certain amount of sarcasm and knowing.
The performances are much more muted than you'd expect, with Jolie-Pitt and Pitt restraining themselves entirely in service to the story. It's not that there's animosity between them, it's more that there's little in the way of warmth or love between them. Brad's character is constantly trying to push his wife to experience the beautiful seaside; he fixes her sunglasses each time she puts them down and tries to understand what it is that's causing her sadness. Angelina, meanwhile, inhabits gorgeous and languid surroundings whilst looking more hollowed out than unhappy. It's only when she's engaged in voyeurism that she perks up in any way, but soon that turns from a passive experience to an active one.
It's an intriguing topic for a film to cover, especially when you consider that Angelina Jolie-Pitt and Brad Pitt live their lives in the public eye, constantly scrutinised and picked over by people who have no bearing on them. There's an obvious allegory here between the predicament of the characters and the Jolie-Pitts, but so what? For all its beauty and intelligence, By The Sea is quite boring. The snail-like pace of the film might work with the French arthouse air it's trying to give off, but there just isn't anything here to keep anybody entertained.
The performances by the two leads, though intriguing for what they are, don't do enough to keep you interested or motivated into watching. Instead, we're treated to sumptuous visuals and a very dull story.