Title: THE BIG PICTURE (L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie)
Director: Eric Lartigau
Screenwriter: Eric Lartigau, Laurent de Bartillat, from Douglas Kennedy’s novel “Big Picture”
Cast: Romain Duris, Marina Foïs, Niels Arestrup, Catherine Deneuve, Branka Katic, Rachel Berger
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 10/3/12
Opens: October 12, 2012
What would you rather do—reside in a capital city as a successful businessman, or take your chances traveling to remote areas using your hobby as a photographer to launch a new career? In today’s economy, there’s little doubt that the vast majority would choose the former, though, given the number of college grads who cannot find stable jobs with good incomes, we might expect quite a few to take their chances on something out of the ordinary.
This is not a mere academic question for Paul Exben (Romain Duras), who not only makes a good living in Paris but has a chance to take over the company he founded with Anne (Catherine Deneuve), as Anne is now dying and wants to turn over her portfolio to Paul free of charge. But there’s a complication, an intriguing one that makes “The Big Picture” more than a mere, albeit tense, thriller, but one which involves a middle-aged man’s toying with a new identity. In fact Eric Lartigau whose “I Do” deals with a confirmed bachelor happy with one-night stands but whose five sisters want him married, places more concern on the stresses and joys of becoming a new man than he does on the accidental killing that motivates his game-changing decision.
The movie, whose French title means “The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life” (though more accurately another person’s life), focuses largely on Romain Duris, in most of the picture’s frames as Paul Exben, who loves his kids dearly but is having a problem with his pretty wife Sarah (Marina Foïs). Sarah is pulling away from him and Paul suspects, rightly, that she is having an affair with Grégoire Kremer (Eric Ruf), a photojournalist. When Paul accidentally kills Grégoire in a fight, he goes on the run not so much because he thinks he would be found guilty of murder, but because he sees an opportunity to take Grégoire’s identity as a photographer and change from the life of a sophisticated, if controlled, Parisian into the world of a dashing international journalist.
Duras is riveting in every scene, telegraphing his emotions easily from that of contented bourgeois and loving father into a panic-stricken traveler never knowing when his true identity will become known and even terrified that he is about to be murdered by a scruffy bunch of Montenegrins. Several scenes are from Paul’s imagination and paranoia—for example, one in which the Montenegrin (or Serbian) police ask him for his auto documents, and one not at all imagined in which a nosy, often-drunk editor Bartholomé (Niels Arestrup) appears to be on to him. When thanks to Bartholomé’s contacts with the media, Paul becomes successful with his cameras beyond his wildest dreams, he realizes that his sudden fame is quite the opposite of what he wants, as he is determined to be sufficiently low-key to avoid publicized recognition back home.
The tension is undermined by what looks like a cheap look from Laurent Daillant’s lensing, looking faded when Catherine Deneuve appears. The subtitles could use a Hollywood touch as English translations from the French, Serbian and Montenegrin are a pale white, the sort that often becomes nearly invisible if snow were present in any scene. Juliette Weffling’s editing is choppy in parts. These are relatively minor cavils when we’re talking about a stellar performance from Duris and scripters Lartigau and Laurent de Bartillat’s smashing screenplay, adapted from the American novel by Douglas Kennedy—which, by the way, takes place in Connecticut and Montana and has been called by Publishers Weekly “the most careful and imaginative exploration of such a situation ever penned.”
Unrated. 114 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – B-
Overall – B+