Friday, November 13, 2015
By the Sea
In a vintage convertible on a winding scenic road, a well-dressed couple Roland (Brad Pitt) and Vanessa (Angelina Jolie Pitt) from New York City arrive at a seemingly empty hotel by the sea on the top of a cliff in Malta. They hardly speak to each other, especially Vanessa who hardly speaks at all. But during frequent visits to a cafe on the foot of the hill over a few drinks and cigarettes, Roland chats openly with the bartender Michel (Niels Arestrup) who candidly offers life lessons about relationship, in French. Soon we gather that Roland is a novelist who has hit his writer's block. His fourteen years of marriage with Vanessa is also in jeopardy. By spending time at this breathtaking location, Roland hopes to find his inspiration to write and to reestablish the love connection with Vanessa.
However, Vanessa shows little interest in repairing the relationship with Roland. Instead, she either stays in bed or hides under her heavy make-up and floppy hat when she is not. When she occasionally comes to the window and looks over the beautiful sea, she looks like a lifeless ghost appearing in a window frame in a haunted castle.
Their uneventful routine is disrupted when Vanessa finds a peephole in her hotel room and watches a newlywed couple Lea (Mélanie Laurent) and François (Melvil Poupaud) check in. It turns out that the voyeurism on the frisky young couple is much better medicine for Vanessa than all the pills she has been pouring into her mouth. The power of porn is not to be underestimated.
Is it possible that the happy-go-lucky couple's lovemaking is so therapeutic that the marriage between Ronald and Vanessa might be saved by peeking at it? Too bad the magnificent ocean view doesn't seem to have the same effect.
It's perplexing why the writer-director-actress Angelina Jolie Pitt crafts such an unlikable and unsympathetic character Vanessa, and drags her beloved husband into the project. Her screen presence is visibly awkward and uneasy. Her every pose and every move seems self-conscious as if she is taking a selfie as a centerfold of a fashion magazine and tries hard to find the best possible angle. Even though Vanessa is a former dancer, that doesn't make her look any more natural or less painful as she poises her feet consciously whenever she lies on a chair or stands next to a door.
Angelina Jolie Pitt's very publicized cancer prevention treatment also becomes a liability for her to play Vanessa whenever she exposes her skin, especially when the moody character is neither engaging nor convincing which leaves your mind plenty of room to be distracted easily.
However, the film's European look and feel is both mesmerizing and seductive. It even makes the long running hour and dull narrative becomes bearable. The fantastic location makes you want to take your next vacation at that very spot, but you might want to double check if the room next door belongs to Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt, and don't forget to check if there is any hole on the wall.