The Big Picture
10 August 2011
Romain Duris, who should really be in every film, stars in this French thriller that never really takes off. Despite the best efforts of its lead and a stellar supporting cast, it dies a slow death before we are even done with the first act. The problem lies with the story.
Paul Exben has it all: he is a young, wealthy junior partner of a Parisian law firm. He lives in a lovely big house, with two lovely children, and a pretty blonde wife. He is good at his job, so much so that his mentor / boss / partner Catherine Deneuve is willing to transfer all her shares to him once she steps away to live her last days with terminal cancer. Although this news seems to rattle Paul, his main problem lies at home.
Paul’s wife, Sarah (Marina Foïs) is unhappy that she is not the centre of Paul’s universe. Paul, for his part, tries too hard to be the best husband, but he knows he is fighting a futile war. It doesn’t help that Sarah may be having an affair with their neighbour. Trying to find the truth leads to a bloody conflict and Paul’s life is turned upside down. So he does what every other person would do: change identity and move to Montenegro.
So far, so good … and so predictable (except for the Montenegro part). The second half of the film is more introspective and ‘artsy’ than the Paris scenes, which had an immediacy about them. Yet, when Paul arrives at the small fishing port town on the Mediterranean coast, things come to a halt and the film never recovers from this loss of momentum. Even Niels Arestrups’ drunken expat Bartholomé cannot save this mess. Duris and Arestrup were both fantastic in The Beat That My Heart Skipped and they are again wonderful on screen. Sadly, their scenes together are very brief. More of this symbolic father-son dynamic would have worked wonders, albeit it would have added to the film’s predictability.
One surprising element in the film that will catch everyone off guard is the nonsensical finale, which either feels forced and too esoteric for its own good, or that they must have lost a reel along the way. Not only it doesn’t tie with anything that came before it (except on a very superficial level), it is devoid of drama or resolution. Not that the film needed a resolution. The ending doesn’t belong to this story.
Yes, the film is very disappointing. However, as the first sentence of the review will attest, Duris towers over every scene. He is playing the role like his life depended on it. He goes under the skin of his character and owns the film. He is one of the best actors of his generation and he deserves better material than this. Give the man his big break. Now.