The Big Picture review (L'homme qui voulait vivre sa vie)

Romain Duris’ stock as an actor is high. And on the back of success and plaudits in The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Heartbreaker, here he stars in Eric Lartigau’s French adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s 1997 Manhattan-set novel. Duris’ cachet is in the ascendant because, unlike many Hollywood leads, he manages to blend onscreen charisma with a subtle, nuanced approach to his roles: handsome and smart.

Lartigau’s film is clever, emotive and never-less-than engaging. It is a thriller, a suspenseful family drama, and for its first third, at least, follows a conventional narrative. But what enables it to leave such a vivid impression is its departure from that formula, and its appetite for suggesting what happens when a man takes flight after a profoundly devastating series of discoveries.

Paul Exben (Duris) is a successful lawyer, married with two children who, and this is made very clear, he absolutely adores. His marriage, however, is not bringing him the same level of joy, and it becomes apparent that his wife Sarah (Foïs) is having an affair. Paul believes his wife’s betrayal is with Grégoire Kremer (Ruf), a photographer whose presence serves as an awkward reminder for Paul that he too wanted to be a photographer – before he chose the legal world ahead of following his passion.

It is soon after Paul confronts Grégoire that The Big Picture sees a shift in emphasis. On the run, Paul isn’t a mere fugitive; he senses an opportunity to create a new life that allows him to pursue his dreams, while he combats the nightmares of his recent past and the painful decisions he has taken.

In a sense, the film becomes a different one entirely as Pau’s new career as a photographer evolves. The emphasis is no longer on the twists and turns of a thriller but is about how someone rises to, and deals with, the challenges that being given a second chance present.

Lartigau’s direction delivers a stylish film that makes emotive use of its French and Adriatic coast locations, and, without exception, the performances are note perfect. The only nagging doubt remains over that shift in emphasis: a film divided. Paul’s new life and career is not without alarm but while the consequences of his previous actions are never forgotten, they sometimes recede into a distance that Paul may not entirely deserve to enjoy.

Official Site
The Big Picture at IMDb

Robert Hull is a Screenjabber contributor

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