By the Sea
By the Sea review – the bedroom as battlefield
Newlyweds awaken Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s sex life in this slow-moving vanity project
Mark Kermode, Observer film critic
Sunday 13 December 2015 08.00 GMT
idely dismissed as a vanity project for its photogenic stars, this serves as the artsy European flipside to Mr & Mrs Smith, the enjoyably brash Hollywood smash-em-up that first spawned the Brangelina behemoth. Where Doug Liman’s 2005 action film found the couple trying to kill each other while falling in love, this finds them trying not to kill themselves while falling out of love. The 70s-set story largely unfolds in a lavish hotel suite in the scenic south of France (actually Malta), where blocked writer Roland (Brad Pitt) hits the bottle when given the cold shoulder by the medicated Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt, also writing and directing). But when attractive newlyweds (Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) move in next door, a spy hole in the wall awakens dormant desires that blend voyeurism and revenge, with underlying grace notes of grief. There’s a hint of the psychopathy of The Comfort of Strangers or Blue Velvet as these dead souls play Peeping Tom with the living embodiments of their past, but Jolie Pitt is clearly aiming more for the spirit of Bergman, Buñuel or Antonioni. Sadly, away from the war zones of In the Land of Blood and Honey and Unbroken, she becomes somewhat becalmed and we end up more focused on Vanessa’s symbolically entombing Liz Taylor/Sophia Loren wardrobe than the emotional battlefields of the bedroom. As for the couple’s long-withheld secret, its eventual revelation is appropriately anticlimactic.