We've all experienced the desire to disappear. For whatever reason, we've entertained the idea of simply pulling up our stakes, packing it in, and vanishing from the face of the Earth or, more likely, those we know so well. No, that doesn't mean that we don't love them; nor does it even possibly imply we've done anything wrong. Life wears us down, and, occasionally, we long for escape. This reality only underscores the very human desire to sometimes merely assume a completely anonymous existence - one devoid of greater meaning or purpose - all with the hope of `fitting in' brand new.
However, if we had a legitimate reason to withdraw from the society of which we're a participant, there's certain a `right way' and a `wrong way' to go about it. What's chiefly on display in THE BIG PICTURE is a life lesson about the lesser risks and greater dangers of doing it without adequate preparation.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and character. If you're the kind of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I'd encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you're accepting of a few modest hints at `things to come,' then read on ...)
Paul Exben (played convincingly by Romain Duris) is a successful Parisian lawyer who's "living the dream" (or so he thought); his wife Sarah (Marina Foïs) and their two children have only started to wear on his real-world sensibilities, and his boss Anne (the lovely Catherine Deneuve, in too short an appearance) is about to retire from the business for medical reasons that would leave him completely in charge of the firm. However, Paul senses something isn't quite right at home. Realizing his wife is having an affair with their neighbor Greg - a photojournalist with a carefree, unpredictable lifestyle - the lawyer confronts the man. After Paul accidentally kills him, he assumes his identity and completely vanishes. The question remains: can he become someone new, or will he be forever haunted by his true past?
Based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, THE BIG PICTURE is a lean and muscular exploration of the psychological dangers of creating a new identity, especially one tied to closely to elements of one's concealed biography. In reality, Paul ends up living two lives simultaneously - the one he's suppressing (his own) as well as the one he's stolen (Greg's). The script smartly achieves a balance between truth and deceit when it becomes clear that circumstances are spiraling out of control despite the man's best efforts to keep them `under his thumb,' and, if he's not careful, Paul will ruin not only his own life but also those he comes into contact with forever.
Also, there's a brilliant visual metaphor at the heart of PICTURE, and that's the fact that both Paul and Greg shared a singular fascination: photography. Whereas Greg's passions we never anything special, it's established fairly early on that Paul has great talent - a true eye for detail - and it's this personal obsession that drives him closer and closer to the brink of ruin. As we all know, a single picture is worth a thousand words; pictures tell stories - not only those of the photographer and his (or her) subjects, but also, due to the nature that photos are highly interpretive as art, they inspire tales of the viewers. Therein lies the beauty of having our narrator in peril: he spends much of the second half of this picture snapping candid photos of people in real-life situations, all the while desperately trying to conceal the truth of his own.
As you may guess, this hobby ends up playing into Paul's unraveling, so much so that he finds himself on the run once more, this time facing even greater peril. Odds are, PICTURE may not go where you expected, but, once it arrives, it still presents a sight to behold. It's filled with some nice performances - even from its lesser players - as a modern-day fairy tale reminding us to think twice before we leap.
THE BIG PICTURE is produced by Europa Corp., TF1 Films Production, CiBy 2000, Canal+, CineCinema, and Cofinova 6. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled through MPI Pictures. For those of you needing to know, this is a French-language picture with English-subtitles; if foreign films are not always to your tastes, I'd still give this one a spin if it interests you as the second half of the flick has a great amount of English-spoken scenes (won't spoil it more than that). As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds tremendous. Additionally, I'd be remiss in my duties if I didn't mention that the film was nominated for the `Best Adapted Screenplay' Award at the 2011 Cesar Awards (France). Lastly - as is often the case with imports - there are no special features to speak of.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Much of THE BIG PICTURE plays out relatively slowly. Paul's story - the state of his personal and professional affairs - takes some time to establish in the first half. Some might call it slow; I prefer to call it `reflective' and `French.' But, once the stakes are raised, it's clear that he's only one option left: run. He does the unimaginable - he abandons a cherished existence, even one that'll require some re-invention, all in favor of salvaging what's left of his family and hoping to start anew elsewhere. The problem remains that who we are is never quite far from how we live, and there's risk waiting for him around every corner.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Home Video provided me with an advance DVD screener copy of THE BIG PICTURE by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.