Who You Think I Am
Juliette Binoche goes catfishing in this twisty online dating thriller.
When a film casts a universally adored actor as an unlucky-in-love character, it sends the world a message: that romance's joys and heartbreaks spare no one. When a movie tasks its protagonist with grappling with technology, it makes another statement: that the advancements meant to makes our lives easier can, and often do, have the exact opposite effect. Not just tried-and-tested, but commonplace, these cinematic choices have become cliches. The truisms they represent are already well-known and well-worn, too. And yet reminders don't go astray when they're not only clever and compelling, but baked into a catfishing thriller as twisty, perceptive and engaging as Who You Think I Am, which turns subverting expectations into its very mission.
Nothing is what it seems in this French standout. As the picture's moniker makes plain, that includes its protagonist, as played by Juliette Binoche. Starring in a film that initially appears a kindred spirit to last year's rom-com Let the Sunshine In, the acclaimed talent again steps into the shoes of an unhappily single 50-something who's newly navigating the dating pool. Where Claire Denis' rom-com poignantly revelled in the ebbs and flows of being unattached later in life, filmmaker Safy Nebbou uses the scenario as a springboard to examine the contradictions of today's always-online, always-connected society. Finding a partner, whether for now or forever, may be as straightforward as swiping across a screen these days, but it's also burdened with complications and deceptions.
There's a glimmer of defiance twinkling in Binoche's eyes when her character, university academic Claire, takes her love life in a drastic direction after her divorce. Adjusting to the new status quo, she still wants to be desired. So, if her ex can run off with someone much younger, then she can have flings with men half her age. When her latest squeeze starts fading out of her life, she also takes up cyberstalking. To discover why Ludo (Guillaume Gouix) has called time on their dalliance without any real explanation, Claire becomes Clara, a fresh-faced fashion intern aged just 24. Soon, the professor isn't just trawling through social media looking for answers about her latest breakup — under her new persona, she's cosying up to Ludo's friend and assistant Alex (François Civil).
The ordinary act of clicking "like" on Facebook sparks a thread of direct messages, then texts, then hot-and-heavy phone calls, with Clara and Alex's online affair getting serious quickly. Adapted by Nebbou and co-screenwriter Julie Peyr from Camille Laurens' novel, Who You Think I Am isn't content to just inch towards the expected revelation one keystroke at a time. Nor is it happy to merely probe the unfair importance placed on appearances in the online dating realm, or the ageist tendency to erase women over a certain age. All of the above play a part in this icily, meticulously shot flick, but its insistence on never fitting neatly into any category extends to a narrative that keeps branching off in different directions. Framed by chats between Claire and her therapist (Nicole Garcia), as obsessed with duality as any Hitchcock classic, and also purposefully referencing the notoriously slippery and seductive Dangerous Liaisons, the end result is snaky thriller, a contemplative drama and even a thorny romance. Or, much like Claire, it's a movie with more than one identity.
Continuing an exceptional recent run that also includes witty literary comedy Non-Fiction and the stellar, space-set High Life, it goes without saying that Binoche is the glue holding Who You Think I Am together. The film is impressively scripted, structured, shot and styled, and would retain these facets even with a different lead — however the right performer can always elevate a great picture to a higher level. While investing in the story's twists and turns is crucial, and something that Nebbou achieves with aplomb, believing in Claire is even more vital. Whether agonising over the right wording for her next message, itching for the phone that becomes her portal to another world, or confidently embracing not just her online charade, but the chance to rewrite her own tale, Binoche ensures that audiences are with her lonely, yearning character every step of the way. A catfishing movie that makes you empathise with the perpetrator? That's just one of the delights of this sharp, smart and savvily layered surprise package.
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