Douglas Kennedy's debut novel, The Big Picture
, was a runaway best-seller in 1997. It was praised as a specifically American story-- one that delved into Cheever and Updike territory-- then took it to the realm of high-stakes psychological suspense. It is of interesting note that the film adaptation is specifically Parisian-- so Parisian that it includes a cameo by Catherine Deneuve
Director Eric Lartigau relocates Kennedy’s Wall Street and Connecticut setting to the suburbs of present-day Paris, where Paul Exben (Romain Duris) is a handsome young lawyer living the good life. He has the beautiful wife in the beautiful house with the beautiful car. There are the two beautiful children, beautiful clothes, beautiful flowers on the table, beautiful cafes, and he gets to have Catherine Deneuve as a law partner. Things are so good that when a dinner party conversation moves into the topic of life’s struggle, the subject is the change in the schedule for garbage pick-up.
But Paul is sensing a crack in the gilded cage.
Like a detective on a mission, he begins to investigate the clues left behind by suspicious wine bottles, silences, and gaffes in conversations, and they lead him to the rotten truth hiding in plain sight: his wife Sarah (Marina Fois) is having an affair with their neighbor Gregoire (Eric Ruf).
Gregoire’s existence has long been a thorn in Paul’s side. Gregoire’s life is the road not taken -- the one that Paul dreamed of but walked away from years ago -- that of a photographer (if a slightly failed one), living alone, devoid of responsibility, pursuing his art.
When Paul confronts Gregoire, he attempts to walk away from the encounter with polite civility, but in a hair trigger moment, everything changes. Suddenly, Gregoire is dead, and Paul is a murderer.
This sudden jolt of fortune’s reversal sends Paul into a panic. Struggling to come up with a fast fix, a decision takes hold of him like a fever. He becomes possessed by a complicated series of make-it-go-away tasks, from moving and then removing the corpse, to disposing the corpse, to moving and removing himself from the scene, then disposing of his own seemingly perfect life, and then posing as someone else, fully assuming the identity of the man he killed.
An unusual road trip ensues, as Paul travels out of one life and into another, transforming from a lithe sophisticate in a well-pressed suit to an unwashed and terrified creature in hiding, barely talking. The raw performance is stunning, by turns charmingly comic and brutally primitive.
This is a strange, dark, and philosophical film, evoking comparison to The Talented Mr. Ripley -- winding through spooky surroundings both internal and external, while investigating the veils of human identity -- from deep-rooted personal history to the gentle white lies that get us through the day. Even Deneuve, presented as a beacon of valiant courage, compassion, and candor at the start returns in the end as a character of questionable truth and purpose.
It is probably not a coincidence that the deceased, who is both an unseen and very visceral ghost throughout, is named Gregoire -- Gregor, as in Kafka's Metamorphosis
. In an often achingly Kafka
-like manner, The Big Picture
is a road trip into the lower depths of metamorphosis, and yet, amidst this terror of false identity, there’s a sensation of freedom in the escape. It’s within this contradiction that story comes alive.
Laurent Daillard’s cinematography includes impressive views of Paris, Brittany, and Montenegro, as well as small lovely scenes that move like the turning pages of a book. It’s a film not quite like any other, suspenseful, weird, and strangely satisfying, well-played throughout by the electrifying Romain Duris.