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23 July 2011

Tell No One for the Next Three Days

I'm sure it's not just me who finds it hard to feel sorry for beautiful, affluent Parisians who live in huge, gorgeous houses in the smartest suburbs. Still, if anyone can inspire sympathy, it's the ever charismatic Romain Duris (of L'arnacoeur fame), who stars in The Big Picture as Paul, partner in a top Parisian law firm, husband of the pretty but sad and frustrated Sarah (Marina Foïs), father of Hugo and the oft-screaming baby Baptiste, and would-be photographer.

Actually, he has an enviable photography lab in his enviable house, paid for with the spoils of his lawyering day job. He always dreamed of being a professional photographer, just like Sarah always wanted to be a writer, and Paul figured that even if he had to sell his soul at lawyering, at least his wife could achieve her dreams. The trouble is, she isn't any good and, stuck all day with two young kids, she becomes bored and frustrated. Sure enough, she starts the inevitable affair with their friend Grégoire (Eric Ruf), who is trying (and failing) to make a living as a photographer--luckily, he has a trust fund and, like everyone else, an amazing house.

When Paul finds out about Sarah's betrayal, he goes to confront Grég, they fight and Paul ends up accidentally killing his rival. Oops. Luckily, he has already seen Ne le dis à personne (Tell No One) and Pour Elle (remade as The Next Three Days) so he knows exactly how an ordinary guy can deal with such situations. Thus, he cleans up the blood, hides the body in the freezer, acquires a new passport in Grég's name with his own photo, learns on the 'net how to blow stuff up, plots his escape and generally works out how to get away with murder. This plan includes emailing Sarah from Grég's computer to tell her of Grég's plans to go Hungary on a project with National Geographic. Then he fakes his own death on a sailboat and escapes to Montenegro in the world's least subtle getaway car (a powder blue vintage Mercedes--I can only assume it was Grég's car but still...).

Safely ensconced in fallen-down cottage in a small town in Montenegro, Paul-as-Grég is free to follow his dream of becoming a photographer. Spotted by Bartholomé (Niels Arestrup), the editor of the local paper, he is commissioned to take a series of portraits of locals, which eventually leads to an exhibition. The trouble is that he can't let any photos of "Grégoire" appear in the press and so when the gallery owner makes a deal to transfer the exhibition to some big London gallery, it's time for Paul to do another runner. What a palaver.

Despite its flaws (it's lucky, for example, that there are no photos of the real Grég online. Also, given that Bartholomé tells Paul-as-Grég, "je t'ai Googlé," why does Paul then try the search on a fake website called "Searcher," which looks remarkably similar to Google? I think the Académie française should be told), The Big Picture had me right up until this point. Based on the English-language novel of the same name by Douglas Kennedy (rather like Tell No One is based on the English-language Harlan Coben thriller), Paul's story was compelling. Like Pour Elle, it tells the tale of an ordinary (if very handsome, wealthy and talented) guy thrown into extraordinary circumstances.

**Spoilers, including an indication of the ending, follow**

But The Big Picture lost me at the end. It was inevitable that Paul's new-found happiness and success would also be his downfall. I guess the writers (or maybe Kennedy; I haven't read the book) wanted a less clichéd ending. I found it highly unsatisfying.

Essentially, Paul escapes to Italy on a ship, having paid off the captain. While on board he spots--and photographs--the crew throwing a couple of stowaways overboard into the open sea. When he protests, they chuck him in too but he manages to drag himself and one of the others onto some kind of raft or large buoy (ah, redemption!). When they eventually reach land (Italy, it seems), he gives the film with the evidence of the crew's crimes to the other stowaway to sell to an Italian newspaper for tens of thousands of Euros. Paul smiles (maybe he's getting half the money; maybe he just feels he's fully redeemed himself; who knows? I didn't really care). Fin.

This felt like an unnecessary juxtaposition. It felt like the ending of an entirely different movie, which is a shame because otherwise The Big Picture is a good, absorbing thriller, due in part to Duris' performance (Catherine Deneuve also pops up as Paul's boss/mother figure who is, sadly, dying of some brutal, unnamed disease).

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