The Big Picture Reviews
"The Big Picture" is a well-photographed, engaging and ironic movie about the nature of identity, even with one sizable contrivance. Along these same lines, it took me a while to realize how much a double entendre the title is. From clues scattered throughout the movie, it becomes clear that while Paul and Sarah may have started out at the same place of idealism in their young lives, somewhere along the way, their paths diverged widely, even as Paul tries to maintain his scruffy appearance. Part of that may involve an intervention for Paul, like the one he gives to a teenage client, by people who in feeling they had his best interests at heart, took away some critical part of his personality. So, years later, Sarah has an affair with somebody who reminds her of a younger Paul who Paul in return pretends to be, while also getting a glimpse of a possible future. While doing this in the most selfish way possible, he also learns quite a lot about himself in the process, thus explaining why the movie ends where it does.
There are at least half a dozen shifts in this wonderfully different film, all of which subtly change the tone of the film without interrupting the flow. Whilst the story occasionally indulges in coincidences for the most part the film feels realistic, and Duris' nuanced study really helps you to believe in him and essentially hope for his 'deliverance'. Stunningly cinematography, almost poetic editing and an open ending combined with spare writing mark The Big Picture out as one of the masterpieces of French cinema. Really worth tracking down.
Paul Exben (Romain Duris) is a man that every other man envies: he has a pretty wife (Marina Foïs), a dependable job, and loving kids. He achieves the American dream, even though he's French. Things take a downhill turn when his wife begins to adopt an icy demeanor; before long, Paul discovers that she is having an affair with his friend, Grégoire (Eric Ruf), a successful photographer.
Paul confronts him at home, but in a jealous rage he accidentally kills him. Rather than face the consequences, he disposes of the body, and goes step by step in order to achieve a clean getaway. A short time later, Paul takes a job opportunity Grégoire had, and steals his identity.
One of the biggest problems with "The Big Picture" is the lead character. Though Duris is, as usual, excellent, Paul is a loathsome character. It's easy to see that he mopes around day to day, and quickly we side with his wife, who, understandably, prefers someone with a little more joy in their heart. When he commits murder, we know that he is scared, but because we get acquainted with him in such a depressing manner, our sympathy isn't there when it should.
The entire plot, though filled with well-written dialogue and quite a deal of grittiness is basic, and it has been done many times before, often times better. Through the film, Paul's hair grows, and his face becomes more sour - it's a look towards downward-spiraling that is fascinating. But there isn't much else that sets it apart.
Lartigau's direction is stylish and cold, which is fitting to the atmosphere, but it is lacking the human touch that would benefit towards connecting with Paul. Because that aspect fails to really grab us, the film feels like almost a task to finish. Badly enough, there isn't much of a payoff either, and it sure would be nice if there was one.
"The Big Picture" has a lot going for it, but in the end, it's forgettable. For a film so professional and beautifully shot, it just doesn't grab out attention the way it should. It's a shame. As as a bonus criticism, it underuses Catherine Deneuve.
And then there's the good friend Greg, who not only has an affair with Paul's Sarah, but taunts Paul--once Paul has found out--with the fact that HE never gave up photography and "sold out." Well, duh: in the first place he didn't have much to sell out (as Bartholomé comments later in the film, and the audience sees for itself the very mediocre work that he does); in the second Paul's parents didn't die and leave him a big comfortable house in a ritzy neighborhood, nor did Greg ever marry and start a family. Too much responsibility, that might mean growing up. His nastiness sounds as if it stems from envy and resentment of Paul--just as the affair, a fling he treats as disrespectfully as he does Paul, probably has.
Through the unfortunate accident that ensues, we watch Paul dismantle his own life (leaving his family well-provided for, yet again). The poignancy is deep, of his finally, ironically, having the freedom to flourish in what he loves and is so good at--but not the freedom, ultimately, to enjoy it for long because he's TOO good at it, and can't avoid the recognition it brings him. The only things in his life he loves as much are his children, and in the end it appears he's had to forfeit them all.
Based on an early novel by Douglas Kennedy, The Big Picture contains some big names of French cinema: Romain Duris, Marina Foïs, Niels Arestrup and Catherine Deneuve, the latter wasted in a few short scenes. Handsomely shot by Eric Lartigau, with some wonderful location work, and great cinematography. For a film about photography it needed to be visual handsome.
Where the film fails is in its implausibility, especially towards the end of the film: details of which I won't go into as they would spoil your enjoyment of it. These implausibility's do not undermine the movie entirely, but they do corrupt some of the good work done so far. Also, it is worth noting that the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock hangs over this film - I think because of its subject matter - and when you realise that, it's only a small step to wondering how Hitchcock would have handled it. I think there is a better film to be made concerning the middle third of the film - as Paul assumes his new identity, it is fraught with risk, and Lartigau throws much of it away with just a few simple visuals that deny the tension.
In all, this is not a poor picture - it is a solid psychological thriller, mostly well told, with a fantastic central performance from Roman Duris. It is a frustrating film, though, as one can see the better material hanging at the edges, trying to take centre-frame, but never doing so.