French actor Romain Duris’s breakthrough part came in 2005 in the Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips 2001, A Prophet 2009) directed film The Beat That My Heart Skipped. He played Thomas Seyr the son of a violent slum landlord who is torn between his father’s brutal criminal underworld and his own secret desire to be a concert pianist. It won a Cesar for his acting ability and a BAFTA for Best Film not in the English Language. My following encounter’s with the French superstar was firstly Dans Paris (2006), where Duris played one of two brothers both living with their divorced father and their attempt to help each other to straighten their lives out. In the 2007 period drama Moliere he played the famous playwright. He further proved his versatility appearing opposite the lovely Vanessa Paradis in the romantic comedy Heartbreaker which went on to become the highest grossing French film of 2010. Which brings us quite nicely to his latest movie, The Big Picture (2010) in which he portrays a highflying big city lawyer who goes on the run after a dramatic accident.
The French title is L’Homme Qui Voulait Sa Vie which literally translated means ‘the man who wanted to live his life’ which is more of an adept description than the title used outside of France. This psychological thriller is directed by Eric Lartigau and was adapted by Douglas Kennedy from his own novel published in 1997. The films narrative covers the themes of identity and the idea of life being elsewhere and the fact that a person’s life can change in an instant making it’s course completely different. It’s a movie of two distinct parts; the first is about a successful lawyer with a beautiful home, an attractive wife and two young children. The second part starts when due to a dramatic chain of events our lead character chooses to take on another identity, journeys to Montenegro and becomes a photographer, something he always harboured a secret ambition to do.
Ideally cast as the lawyer Paul Exben, Romain Duris completely absorbs the part, can act with his eyes and completely change’s his demeanour as the circumstances of his character’s life change. The casting offers Duris some great support; Catherine Deneuve is the head of the law firm that Exben is a partner in. The classic French actor Niels Arestrup, who plays Duris father in The Beat That My Heart Skipped, is Bartholome the heavy drinking ex-pat living and working in Montenegro. The directors partner Marina Fois portrays Exben’s wife.
Quite cleverly this voyage of discovery allows the viewer to direct their sympathy towards Paul and not his wife, something I found quite refreshing. Although the plot is a little contrived I found the film quite enthralling, mainly due to Romain Duris compelling performance.