A successful young father of two is forced to reinvent his life a la Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, in “The Big Picture,” Eric Lartigau’s French adaptation of the eponymous U.S. novel by Douglas Kennedy. Substituting Paris for New York and, somewhat bizarrely, the Montenegrin seaside for Montana, this slickly produced film with hot Gallic star Romain Duris (“Heartbreaker”) has some script and pacing problems but should generate solid numbers locally. Though not easily classifiable in terms of genre, the film is probably too commercial to be marketed as a straightforward arthouse title abroad, and wider success will depend on savvy marketing.
Like recent Stateside hit “Tell No One,” “Big Picture” is a French-language adaptation of an American novel that combined crime and character-study, and any niche distrib will likely reach out to the earlier pic’s aud in its marketing campaign. But a more appropriate antecedent is Audiard’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” which established Duris as a credible dramatic actor internationally (and which also co-starred Niels Arestrup and was edited by Juliette Welfling). In both films, Duris plays a man torn between a strong desire for artistic fulfillment and the (possible) consequences of his criminal behavior.
Here, Duris is Paul Exben, a successful businessman who co-owns a company with his partner and mentor, Anne (Catherine Deneuve). He is married to Sarah (Marina Fois), has two beautiful kids and a comfortable villa in the ‘burbs. But his picture-perfect life is turned upside down when Anne tells him she is terminally ill, and Paul starts to suspect Sarah is having an affair with a rugged travel photog, Gregoire (Eric Ruf), who lives next door. When Paul confronts Gregoire, a scuffle inadvertently leads to Gregoire’s death, and Paul realizes that he can’t go back to his two-timing wife. Worse, his kids are now the children of a murderer.
Taking a page from the Ripley handbook, Paul erases the traces of his crime, stages his own death, takes on Gregoire’s identity and sets himself up in a dingy seaside cottage in Montenegro as a photographer — a passion for which he’s always had the latest gadgets but never the time.
Lartigau (“I Do”) here tackles his biggest and most complex film to date yet, and goes all out. Part thriller, part character study and part Gallicized American dream gone wrong, the pic also blends in some romance courtesy of a pretty local photo editor (Branka Katic), who works for the local newspaper of a grouchy French expat (Arestrup).
Though pacing is occasionally wobbly and Paul’s impulsive decision to do what he does comes out of nowhere, Duris’ magnetic perf just about keeps all these disparate elements together. His Paul is a creature driven by many emotions, including regret, love, his passion for the arts and a constant fear of discovery, which spins out of control when his pictures starts winning acclaim.
Duris is just as good as in “Skipped,” even if his character’s journey is not as well-charted here. When, in Montenegro, Paul writes an e-mail to explain what he’s done, it becomes clear that all that’s come before was logical, but also throws into relief that Paul’s reasoning was never fully readable up until that point. The final scenes, which depart significantly from the novel, don’t feel directly connected to the film’s core themes of identity and the need for a firm grip on one’s destiny. Other actors are all solid ensemble players.
Pic’s comfortable (for France) E13 million budget is all up onscreen, with the work of d.p. Laurent Dailland, production designer Olivier Radot and costume designer Anne Schotte all effectively used to underline the many differences between the life of rich businessman Paul and, after his “death,” the life of penniless but successful artist Paul/Gregoire. Further tech package is smooth and location work impressive.
Paul’s photos were actually shot by Magnum shutterbug Antoine d’Agata.