There’s a knowing duality to the title of Eric Lartigau’s (I Do, The Players) new film, The Big Picture, that only comes into focus once you’ve seen his twisty new film, adapted from Douglas Kennedy’s 1997 American-set novel. Without bombast, Picture swerves in ways both substantive and stylistic, but because these shifts yields surprises, I don’t feel comfortable delineating many of them for this review.
How fortunate then, that the potency of Lartigau’s drama comes from the interior rather than any specific plot points. This much I can share: Parisian Paul Exben (Romain Duris of The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Heartbreaker) lives an enviable life: handsome, stylish healthy, he’s married to a beautiful wife, Sarah (Marina Foïs) and has two well-behaved young children. His professional life seems as fruitful as his personal one; for her own reasons, Anne (Catherine Deneuve, underused) has chosen to name him senior partner of the successful corporate law firm she soon plans to vacate.
Before long, though, cracks start to appear in the veneer. Due to circumstance, pressure and some of his own choices, Paul and Sarah are unhappy. His life is not what he had once hoped it would be, and it begins to feel like more and more of a lie. For instance, his own passion is not the law but photography. And eventually, Paul takes some bold steps in creating a new life for himself.
Picture admittedly skimps a bit in this department; the ways in which Paul engineers his escape come off with far too much facility, and may alienate viewers. But that’s not really what Lartigau is looking at. His view is a more existential one, with Duris masterfully conveying Paul’s simultaneous disenchantment and reborn passions. (The original French title of the film reads as “The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life.”) Picture keeps evolving, even as its (anti)hero appears to devolve in front of the audience.
Lartigau’s film – which he adapted along with Laurent de Bartillat, and in collaboration with Emmanuelle Bercot, and Bernard Jeanjean – then explores the healing power of the arts and poses, without answering, complex moral questions. But Picture’s narrative also functions on purely literal level as well, involving Paul once again picking up a camera and, in seeing others, finding his true self. It’s a rocky journey, one that involves hurting others in the process and relocation to the less-connected Balkan Peninsula. Frustratingly, the film sometimes feels distracted. Before scenes have a chance to reflect a point-of-view, plot contrivances waltz in out of nowhere, perhaps to satisfy an audience that needs something meatier to chew on than food for thought. One wishes it had the fortitude to plow further, in the safety net-free storytelling vein of Michelangelo Antonioni and Roman Polanski, filmmakers unafraid to explore solitude in its scary and resuscitating glory.
However, I’ll forgive the occasional lapses into stock conventional thriller territory if that’s the conduit through which the deeper themes of Picture must be escorted. And a deceptively effortless Duris plows deep, unafraid to go into off-putting emotional territory. He also gets help from a pair of actors, Neils Arestrup and Branka Katic, as two unexpected forces who accidentally reignite a hidden fire in Paul.
“Passion, I see, is catching,” said Marc Antony is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Then Picture should be Patient Zero for this highly attractive disease.
The Big Picture opens on Friday, October 12 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center.
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