Big Picture (2010): French Director Eric Lartigau’s Adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s 1997 Novel.

By Patrick Z. McGavin

Toronto International Film Fest (Special presentations)–The gifted French actor Romain Duris has a complex and serious face and a lithe and deceptive body that allows him to go either way, into tragedy or farce, violence or comedy. That versatile ability for the violent disruption beneath a seemingly calm exterior are explored to sharp effect in “The Big Picture,” French director Eric Lartigau’s adaptation of Douglas Kennedy’s 1997 novel.
Lartigau worked on the adaptation with Laurent de Bartillat and they have transposed the action from New York to suburban Paris. The story recalls aspects of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “The Passenger,” where a man disgusted with the failure of his own life takes on another man’s identity and the eerie and tragic consequences that result.
The interesting reversal here is that it is a successful man who disavows his privileged life. The novel and film both append the vestiges of the thriller to darker threads involving sexual jealousy and romantic disruption. Paul (Duris) is an ambitious, high-flying lawyer for a prominent Paris investment firm who is poised to take over the company from its founder (Catherine Deneuve, in a small part, packed with her imperial glamour).
His seemingly idealized world is shaken by his discovery of his wife’s (Marina Fois) infidelity. More damaging is the man cuckolding him, Grégoire Kremer (Eric Ruf), is the kind of person he holds with particular disgust, a failed photographer who lives off the largesse of a family inheritance. With his wife having fled their home with their two young children, Paul confronts the other man. The struggle that ensues leads to the other man’s accidental death.
Suddenly afforded the chance to annihilate his past and remake himself, Paul stages his own death and takes on the other man’s identity. He finds refuge in a small village in the Balkans in a ruggedly beautiful, hardscrabble coastline in the former Yugoslavia
In a sharp and eerie development, Paul is given an ironic, almost macabre, chance at deepening his own brand of vengeance. The kicker, in both novel and film, is that Paul’s training, innate talent and instinctive brilliance makes him out to be better at his assumed identity than the other man.
Photography was Paul’s sideline pursuit and he was, by sensibility and manner, an aesthete. A chance encounter with a French expatriate (Niels Arestrup) leads to Paul being commissioned to work as a photographer for a local daily. His expressive and startling work, shooting longshoremen and factory workers, reveals his magnetic and artistic eye that sets in motion a wholly unexpected string of events that leads to Paul, in his assumed, identity having his work displayed in a gallery. 
In a delicious twist, Paul proves too good at his new work and it threatens to expose the truth. The private torment is whether his charade is going to be discovered, or does he take the risk, especially since he has become romantically attached to a beautiful journalist (Branka Katic).
Duris commands the movie. He has such an instinctive and knife-like camera presence. As he showed in Jacques Audiard’s excellent “The Beat that My Heart Skipped,” he’s not physically imposing, but he is so agile and fluid. He gives weight and sensibility to an essentially good man who’s wronged. He is also very good at evoking the inner torment of somebody uncertain, even unhappy by his own success and longs for a different kind of escape.
Lartigau made his reputation in France making television commercials. Well photographed by Laurent Dailland, “The Big Picture” is well assembled and possessed of a welcome and lean forward momentum.  The story, of course, is built on incident and coincidence that often verge on the ridiculous. The movie might have been a minor classic, but it is marred by an incomplete and unsatisfying ending that feels imported from a different film. 
Even when it makes little sense, it is always engrossing and fascinating to watch.