This review was originally published as part of our Venice Film Festival coverage on 03/09/2017.
Self-indulgent, glacially slow, and painfully boring, Robert Guédiguian’s The House by the Sea is atrocious. It’s baffling that it made it through the screening process to play in Competition at Venice, where it is by far the worst film to screen. Telling a lifeless story about a group of awful people, there is absolutely nothing to recommend it.
After aged restaurant owner Maurice (Fred Ulysse) has a debilitating stroke, his three adult children return to their quaint coastal home town to care for him and decide what to do next. Many, many films have made compelling drama out of such a lo-fi premise. What Guédiguian fails to do to emulate this success is have any of his characters behave or talk like real human beings. Instead, they suddenly announce elements of their past to no one in particular, before launching into laughably flat conversations that feign being cerebral without containing a shred of good dialogue.
Appalling performances perfectly complement the material – this is not a case of either acting or writing letting the other side down, both are equally awful – with particular honours going to Robinson Stevenin as local fisherman Benjamin. His ostensibly romantic role becomes exceedingly slimy through Stevenin’s uncharismatic presence, which ends up as one of the creepiest things in any 2017 film.
As the story shuffles along, Guédiguian introduces big themes and events that he never earns. A child’s death, a double suicide, and the discovery of orphaned refugee kids in the woods are all stymied by the accidental hilarity of their woeful execution.
Perhaps something was lost in translation here, and the original French dialogue makes more sense or is less irritatingly trite. But even if that is the case, lazy story work and a uniformly bad cast still sink The House by the Sea.
CAST: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan
DIRECTOR: Robert Guédiguian
WRITERS: Robert Guédiguian, Serge Valletti
SYNOPSIS: Three grown children gathered at the picturesque villa of their dying father reflect on where they are, who they have become, and what they have inherited.