The Big Picture

The Big Picture

****

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

This is one of those well-plotted thrillers the French are so good at - think Tell No One and Anything For Her - where an ordinary life suddenly goes horribly wrong. The film is based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy and the English title is the original, though the French title is arguably better in its ambiguity.

Romain Duris is excellent as the main character, Paul, a well-off lawyer with a stay at home wife, two small children and a state of the art Paris apartment. He is comfortable in his work, and his partner Anne (a welcome but under-used Catherine Deneuve) is planning to hand over the firm to him. Paul and Sarah (Marina Fois) are seen having dinner with friends in other beautiful Paris homes and everything could be just rosy.

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But then Paul realises that Sarah is having an affair with one of these friends and she tells him she wants a divorce.

Paul goes to see the man, Gregoire (Eric Ruf), who is a professional photographer. It seems that Paul also tried his hand at photography, but gave up and settled for a more conventional life. Greg calls him weak and accuses him of being a loser, which leads to a fight with tragic consequences.

Although we are firmly on Paul’s side for the rest of the film, as he takes on a new identity and tries to build a new life, Duris shows that there is indeed a streak of weakness in his character. He is indecisive, he makes mistakes. But he is also a decent man who loves his children desperately and doesn’t really deserve to be where he is.

Paul tries to turn back time and start again from a point where he once succeeded at something. He rents a house in Montenegro with a stunning view of the town of Kotor. In a somewhat romanticised version of the town, he gets to know new characters, including the drunken Bartholome?, who, being played by Niels Arestrup, can’t be any ordinary drunk. He turns out to be the local newspaper editor, which gradually and a little implausibly takes Paul into a new and very successful career as a photographer. Just what he always wanted, in fact. But success comes with a sting in the tail.

What happens next builds to a neat and satisfying ending. Tense and absorbing throughout, this is a film well worth seeking out.

Reviewed on: 05 Aug 2011
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Paul Exben has the perfect life, but when he finds out that Sarah, his wife, is cheating on him, a rush of blood provokes Paul into a fatal error.
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Director: Eric Lartigau

Writer: Stéphane Cabel, Laurent de Bartillat, Douglas Kennedy, Eric Lartigau

Starring: Romain Duris, Marina Foïs, Niels Arestrup, Branka Katic, Catherine Deneuve

Year: 2010

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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