Review: Juliette Binoche makes you believe in catfishing drama ‘Who You Think I Am’
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Every cinematic experience requires suspension of disbelief, and the provocative, entertaining “Who You Think I Am” asks for it in a few ways. First, that the staggeringly beautiful Juliette Binoche could ever be deemed unworthy by a man of any age, and second, that this film’s increasingly outlandish twists hold up under close scrutiny. If you can accept those absurdities, it’s easy to get on “Who You Think I Am’s” wavelength, which vacillates between high-minded and tawdry and results in an engaging mashup of psychological drama and social media thriller.
Binoche stars as Claire Millaud, a fiftysomething woman who director Safy Nebbou and co-writer Julie Peyr follow in two timelines. In the present day, Claire faces off against her new psychologist, Dr. Catherine Bormans (Nicole Garcia), toward whom she is first chillily resistant (“You’re not how I imagined — younger”). But Dr. Bormans’ refusal to be pushed around earns Claire’s crooked half-smile of respect. “Who You Think I Am” then jumps backward nearly a year as Claire recounts her relationship with a twentysomething lover named Ludo (Guillaume Gouix).
After her divorce, her ex-husband’s new relationship and her two sons growing up into middle and high schoolers, Claire struggles to desire and feel desired. But the sex she’s having with Ludo doesn’t signal a deep connection — at least not on his part. He’s casually cruel to her (“Are you pouting? Aren’t you too old for that?”) before ghosting her on social media, and Claire is deeply hurt by his abandonment. Bored with her life, Claire creates a 24-year-old online alter ego named Clara Antunes and starts creeping a little too often on Ludo’s account. Through Ludo, she notices the tall, dark and handsome Alex (François Civil), to whom she sends a friend request on a whim — and with whom she starts chatting when he accepts.
Claire-as-Clara and Alex are soon messaging constantly, and eventually begin to talk on the phone at all hours, every day. Nebbou and cinematographer Gilles Porte heighten the simultaneously illicit and infatuated atmosphere by peering at Binoche through her apartment’s floor-to-glass windows, glancing above her laptop screen at her furrowed brow as she chats, and tracking her in closeup through a grocery store as she speaks into her earbuds’ microphone. Are the two having an emotional affair? Yes. Does their relationship become physical? Also yes. Is it catfishing on Claire’s part, even if she stubbornly says to Dr. Bermans, “I was pretending to be 24, I was 24”? Absolutely!
Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya in “Dune,” Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond in “No Time to Die” and Chloé Zhao directing Marvel’s “Eternals” highlight the fall movie slate.
Smartly, “Who You Think I Am” doesn’t absolve Claire of her choices — but it also resists a didactic reduction of Claire’s character. Binoche’s performance, which is built subtly on head tilts, eyebrow raises and pursed lips, masterfully conveys the character’s initial spontaneity at forming a bond with Alex, then her eventual slide into fixation and self-doubt. A certain scene shows Claire as she fears others see her (unremarkable, ordinary) and then flips it around to give Claire an opportunity to reclaim her identity, which essentially means diminishing Alex of his. “Who You Think I Am” is slippery both in its character dynamics and in whose perspectives it prioritizes, and that malleability helps build a pervasive, persuasive tension.
Binoche has excellent chemistry with both Garcia’s struggling-to-stay-neutral Dr. Bormans and Civil’s puppy-dog-eyed Alex, and the trio’s intuitive grasp of these characters elevates the film’s somewhat predictable wariness toward the potential anonymity of social media. Nebbou and Peyr’s script crackles most with its observations about aging, sex and second chances, and “Who You Think I Am” spins a tale of love, attention, manipulation and obsession that is recognizably uncomfortable and summarily captivating.
'Who You Think I Am'
In French with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 3 in limited release, including the Landmark, West L.A.; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Town Center, Encino; Laemmle Claremont; Laemmle Newhall, Santa Clarita
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