The Big Picture
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 10th July 2011
When you think about your day job – the place you’re most likely going to tomorrow – consider whether it’s what you really wish you were doing with your life. How often do we get the chance to chuck it all in and follow a dream?
Paul isn’t the professional photographer he once wanted to be, but he can’t complain – he has a great law job, a fancy house, beautiful wife and cute kids. Like many who secretly wish their hobby could take centre stage, he satisfies his yen by buying fancy equipment and talking lenses with his friends. His colleague Anna (the reliable and sadly under-used Catherine Deneuve) has big plans for the business. If Paul sometimes exhibits slightly erratic behaviour it is offset by the wonderful rapport he has with his children. Things seem good.
So, when his wife suddenly demands a divorce, Paul’s perfect world starts to crumble, and a sudden moment of passion (alas, not the romantic kind) irrevocably changes everything – closing down one life, but effectively opening up another. He manufactures a complex turn of events to get him out of trouble, at the same time starting the clock on a misadventure that becomes more desperate (for him) and thrilling (for us) by the moment.
Ideally, following your dream should be much easier than this, but then it wouldn’t be the plot of a Douglas Kennedy novel. Kennedy’s novel is set in America but has been transposed effortlessly to France, where the romantic entanglements and ensuing drama seem almost plausible.
Director Eric Lartigu has taken the rich source material and cast suitably strong actors to carry a tale that could, in the wrong hands, be hysterical rather than heartrending. The excellent Romain Duris reverts from the rom-com hero of Heartbreaker to his previous darker characters (as in The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Dans Paris), playing a man for whom tragedy provides an unexpected opportunity to become someone completely new. Provoking the universal question of “What would I do in this situation?”, the story races from one tense episode to the next, making it difficult to watch without a constant tightening in the stomach. No sooner are we settled into one location than we’re off somewhere else, and Paul’s desperation is keenly felt. The sound design is often overpowering and claustrophobic (sometimes more than necessary), and moral dilemmas abound.
In French the film’s title is the less oblique The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life, ignoring the obvious photographic reference from the novel. But it is entirely appropriate in expressing the conflict between what we think we want, and what we get. This film almost tries to do too much in too short a time, but considering the story it was handed, the adaptation is well-told and engaging until the (surprising) end.