“You can hide from your past, but you can never erase it.”
With that simple tagline, it becomes clear that The Big Picture is a movie we’ve seen before: a successful man does something unspeakable, and spends a good deal of time trying to bury his transgression. It is unfortunate that director Eric Lartigau, who also co-wrote the film with Laurent de Bartillat, brings very little originality to this formula. Like The Intouchables, The Big Picture approaches some of the same themes as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly without ever managing to capture that film’s pure magic and honest commentary on society. The result is a stylish, well-acted drama that unfortunately has little else going for it.
Lartigau handles his subject matter with a sort of wandering aimlessness, making the film pleasantly unpredictable up until a point. But once Paul Exben makes his life-changing decision toward the end of the first act, the film slips into a stifling by-wrote cause-and-effect paradigm. The success of Paul’s escape from his past is constantly in question, giving the story some much-needed background excitement. Unfortunately, Lartigau undermines these thrills at every turn; each twist and turn in the narrative can be seen from a mile away, breaking whatever tension had heretofore been built.
These qualms aside, the movie is far from a total loss. This is mostly due to a typically strong showing from Romain Duris (L’Auberge Espagnole), whose subtle vulnerability makes Paul an instantly sympathetic and believable protagonist. Lartigau puts the audience on his side from the film’s onset, giving him a credible reason for his recent poor showing as a husband. Combined with Duris’s emotionally-driven performance, the viewer is inexorably attached to the fate of this poor man.
Lartigau and his crew also did a wonderful job showing the evolution of Paul’s character using clever visual cues. As the film opens, he is a well-dressed, straight-laced lawyer whose propensity for success oozes from his every mannerism. And yet, his humanity does shine through as he speaks with his longtime partner, Anne (Catherine Deneuve) – hinting at his truer altruistic qualities. After the aforementioned central conflict is revealed, Paul closes up in a shell, paranoid and frightened of the outside world. Toward the end of the film, as the movie approaches its conclusion, we see a more hip, bohemian, laid-back Paul Exben has emerged from this fear-laden cocoon; his hair is loose, his demeanor is cool, and his clothes are perfectly disheveled. And all the while, we see with the film’s final sequence that Paul’s humanity has been preserved.
Beyond its predictability, the real issue with The Big Picture is that it lacks a compelling message. When a film so fervently assigns parallel meaning to its first and second halves, the audience is goaded into looking for an underlying theme. Yielding nothing more than some ambiguous moral commentary, The Big Picture leaves the audience with distinct of feeling of incompleteness. Perhaps there is a central thesis to The Big Picture, but if there is, Lartigau mostly subverts his intentions. Is the story about being selfless, or being a good husband, or the perils of success? Who’s to tell?
There are worse films to spend your time on – the pacing is well-done, the modern look of the film is aesthetically pleasing, and the dialogue is tight – but The Big Picture does little to move the genre forward. Romain Duris is the star of the show here, and fans of his will certainly enjoy seeing him flex his more serious acting muscles. For everyone else, you may find that the film lacks thematic depth.
Verdict: Movie Meh
A Note on Timing – The Big Picture was released in 2010 in France, but only just made it across the Atlantic to our shores this year. If you’re interested in seeing it in theaters, you’re likely to find it in your local independent cinema. If you can’t find it there, home video may be your best bet.