[xrr rating=2.25/5]The original French title for Eric Lartigau’s The Big Picture is L’Homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, which means “The man who wanted to live his life.” The title literally describes the film’s premise like Man on a Ledge or Snakes on a Plane. The Big Picture is one of those rare cases where a changed translated title is more appropriate, and in this case, cute and clever.

Paul Exben (Romain Duris) is an amateur photographer who forewent pursuing his passion to work in real-estate law in order to provide for his two young children and wife Sarah (Marina Foïs), a failed writer who doesn’t appear to love him anymore. When he finds out about Sarah’s affair with a rival photographer, Greg Kremer (Eric Ruf), Paul confronts Greg at his house and accidentally kills him. It’s quite literally a life-changing event: Paul decides to hide Greg’s death, fake his own, steal Greg’s identity and leave France to live a new life in Eastern Europe. In the safe sanctuary of a desolate, peaceful town, he tries to get over the emotional ordeal of everything that has happened—particularly his permanent estrangement from his children—by turning back to his one true passion. His photography is quickly noticed by a local journalist who gets him a job. For the first time in his life, Paul lives his dream as a professional photographer and actually begins to enjoy life again, only to have the sickening harshness of reality brush up against him as he ironically starts to become a local celebrity, recognized for his talented work.

The premise indicates some intriguing thematic preoccupations: the idea of abandoning one’s entire identity, the strange process of rebirth, the character’s realization of the “big picture”—that we should not be afraid to pursue our dreams. To explore the latter idea, the film first introduces Paul’s tedious but comfortable middle-class life: crying babies that pry his eyes open at night, adolescent clients with attitude, humdrum treadmill exercise. These opening scenes unfortunately match Paul’s monotony in terms of narrative pacing, and for a while the film’s direction is aimless. But as more clues lead Paul to discover Sarah’s infidelity, his nervous energy becomes so intense and serious that it seems like the only natural route for the film to follow is some kind of murderous thriller. For the first time, the narrative starts to pick up as Paul plans a plausible escape route following Greg’s death, which seems mostly logical yet still contains the possibility that Paul will be caught. Of course the film has to be bigger than that—it is, after all, The Big Picture. The uneasiness of Paul’s new life as he settles into his Eastern European hideout initially becomes a new source of hand-wringing but slowly and rewardingly changes into one of soul-searching.

The film’s largest problem is that emotionally resonant scenes—or even scenes that are supposed to elucidate the film’s Great Ideas—last about as long as the thrilling, action-heavy scenes—in other words, perhaps one or two minutes. This strange consistency in editing pace, which virtually never changes, is a dead-end, a faltering of cinematic expression. While The Big Picture mostly adheres to classical Hollywood continuity, there are some unnecessary moments that, if stretched, could have given the film the emotional reverb it so clearly desires and tries to establish for the protagonist’s emotional rollercoaster ride. One of the few scenes to come close to providing emotional punch is Paul’s last meal with his older son; a few slow-motion shots of the child’s face and hands holding chopsticks and Paul’s longing gaze is effective more because of its contrasting editing (compared to the more hastily-edited scenes which plague the film) than because it is actually affecting.

The script is peppered with explicit references to fame, identity and free will that try very hard to sound oblique, and all are treated with a sort of rushed, trivial sense of symbolism. Paul’s arrogant client at the beginning of the film decides to give up his trust fund so that he can be free to do as he wishes, a momentous decision that Paul only half-understands at that point in time. Later, Paul’s partner Anne (a tragically underused Catherine Deneuve) informs Paul of her terminal illness for which she has decided not to undergo treatment. “The hardest part was realizing I had no future,” she tells him, explicitly foreshadowing Paul’s own future liminal existence. These superficial comparisons are the trademarks of a Hollywood thriller but without the taut craftiness of a Hollywood production. The Big Picture could have easily been revised into a more meaningful—though not necessarily profound—film, but given Lartigau’s style it would have perhaps been more beneficial if he’d relied less on American thriller tropes in favor of exploring larger existential questions.

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