Title: The Big Picture
Director: Eric Lartigau
Starring: Romain Duris, Marina Fois, Catherine Deneuve, Neils Arestrup, Branka Katic, Eric Ruf
A contemplative, puzzle-box anti-thriller of the sort that seemingly only the French now make (even though it’s adapted from an American novel by Douglas Kennedy), “The Big Picture” is an artful if overlong drama that connects chiefly as a compelling vehicle for star Romain Duris. To call it understated is its own special sort of understatement; this is a film-as-character-study, but also one that hovers drone-like over its subject rather than digging in for deep psychological insights.
The story centers on a lawyer and family man, Paul Exben (Duris), who commutes from outside the city to the Paris-based corporate firm he co-founded with his partner and mentor, Anne Damaso (Catherine Deneuve). Behind this deceptively simple and manicured bourgeois façade, however, lies desire for creative fulfillment on the part of both Paul and his weary wife, Sarah (Marina Fois).
She’s a would-be writer ground down by rejection and domestic duty, and Paul is an amateur photographer who never took a chance on his own talents in that field. These distant echoes of dissatisfaction cause a rift in their marriage, and Paul begins to suspect Sarah of having an affair with their rakish photojournalist neighbor, Greg (Eric Ruf). Confrontation ensues, and while what transpires after this (roughly the first act break) is perhaps best not communicated with exacting detail, it separates Paul from Sarah and his two young children, and sets him off on a course of self-discovery and reinvention whereby he gets a second chance at becoming a photographer.
“Rapt” was another recent French film that focused on a successful lawyer who finds his well-ordered world suddenly compromised, but “The Big Picture” is much more of a piece with something like Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” which also dealt with re-christened identity. Its rhythms are, if not sleepy, then at least deeper and slower than what one might assume based on how the narrative unfolds — a night current rather than a furious rapid.
Director Eric Lartigau, working from an adaptation co-authored with Laurent de Bartillat, focuses on internal struggle as much as anything else. The movie’s moral ambivalence and embrace of ambiguity is its most attractive quality; in resisting easy answers for what might be described as a series of increasingly poor choices Paul makes, it spotlights the sliding scale of ethical principle that most movies seek to avoid. In this regard, what will endear “The Big Picture” to audiences more familiar with foreign films are the very traits that will frustrate those who find its plotting too sludgy, and lacking in catharsis.
Deneuve’s presence — both the legendary actress, and the character she plays — is a bit of a puzzler, but Neils Arestrup and Branka Katic both deliver fine supporting work as folks who cross paths with Paul in his newly compromised and secretive state. Ruf plays a character who, as written, is a bit too much of a telegraphed catalyst, but Fois is subtly distended with discontent. Mainly, though, “The Big Picture” is about Duris, who delivers a fine performance that builds on the burgeoning reputation he’s built with Stateside arthouse audiences by way of “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and “Heartbreaker.”
Written by: Brent Simon