The Big Picture (MPI Media Group, NR)

film big-picture_75The ambiguity of the French title, L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie (“The man who wanted to live his life”), is a much better fit for the film that the rather bland English title


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The Big Picture begins, abruptly, with a baby crying and a weary father dragging himself out of bed to soothe it. The father, Paul Exben (Romain Duris), is strikingly handsome, and director Eric Lartigau wastes no time letting us know that he is a successful lawyer, lives in a mansion with his beautiful family, eats in fancy restaurants, and has lots of attractive and charming friends, including one with whom he may be having an affair. Tough life, huh?

Well, maybe it is, if you’re a remarkably self-centered individual more concerned with what you don’t have than what you do. Paul still regrets that he gave up his dream of being a big-shot photographer for the more certain material rewards of the law. A second blow arrives in the first 15 minutes, as his wife, Sarah (Marina Foïs), tells him she’s ready to call it quits. From her point of view, she sacrificed her writing career to be a stay-at-home mom, while from his point of view she’s just a selfish whiner (takes one to know one). Not long after, he discovers that she’s having an affair with, of all the ironies, Gregoire (Eric Ruf), a friend of Paul’s who has continued to work as a photographer instead of taking up a more lucrative profession.

It’s hard to have much sympathy for Paul and his upper-class lifestyle, but fortunately, you don’t have to, because he does something in the first quarter of the film that sets the story on an entirely different course. I’m loath to say too much, other than that the developments that follow are somewhat reminiscent of the parable of Flitcraft that Sam Spade tells in The Maltese Falcon, minus the psychological insight.

This is a film that cares a lot about surface, with Laurent Dailland’s cinematography setting just the right mood for Paul’s shiny, glossy world (his life seems to take place entirely in postcard-worthy locations). Paul and his friends are great eye candy, but they’re all types, and we don’t learn enough about them to really know who they are or why we should care about them. We don’t have to, however, because The Big Picture is a psychological thriller rather than an art-house classic, and if you’re ever tempted to forget that fact, the soundtrack by Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine will bring you right back to the world of this film.

Taken as a classy genre flick in the spirit of The Ghost Writer, The Big Picture provides an enjoyable two hours (114 minutes, to be precise) at the cinema. It’s not a perfect film, and does seem to lay it on a bit thick sometimes—for instance, while I’m always glad to see Catherine Deneuve in a film, did she really need to announce that she was dying (of an unnamed Hollywood disease, of course) and hand over the law firm to Paul in the first 10 minutes of the film? What’s more, we can understand the differences in material status between Paul and Gregoire without having them make a direct comparison between the kind of photographic equipment Paul can afford, and what Gregoire has to make do with. Finally, the ambiguity of the French title, L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie (“The man who wanted to live his life”), is a much better fit for the film that the rather bland English title, The Big Picture. | Sarah Boslaugh

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