After a shocked, devastated Paul confronts Greg, the world changes in unexpected, unalterable ways. As with many French films, complex, intimate, emotional relationships take center stage in the first act. Carefully observed, familiar events reveal layered elements of desire and need, offering insights and food for thought.
Unfortunately, the second act veers away from the richly nuanced interaction as a crime drama takes center stage. This shift noticeably changes the focus of the film from fairly conventional exchanges to a slower pace and a literal and figurative darkness. For example, early on Paul has meals with his two children, talks with his law partner, and longs to pursue his love of photography. Later, he spends a great deal more time alone, chats only guardedly with others, and wields his camera like an expert, almost as a weapon.
As Paul, the charismatic Romain Duris anchors the episodic second and third acts, no small accomplishment with the burden squarely on him. In brief but nicely drawn scenes, Niels Arestrup and Catherine Deneuve shine like the veteran professionals they are. But the shift in acts two and three require some nimble, mental gymnastics by viewers, especially those of us accustomed to externalized, formulaic fare, which “The Big Picture” is not.
Without revealing important plot details, I can safely say that the film extends an invitation to contemplation of ideas atypical for conventional cinema. Because of that, and the rather cursory treatment of its weighty themes, its achievement remains a bit elusive, though worth further reflection.
Based on Douglas Kennedy’s novel, “The Big Picture” is a mistranslation of the French title, “L’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie,” “The Man who Wanted to Live His Life.” While not entirely successful, it’s rare to have a film with so much on its mind, a treat in itself. In French with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.