Juliette Binoche is the 50-something mother posing as a 24-year-old online

Who You Think I Am

Source: Diaphana Films

Who You Think I Am

Dir: Safy Nebbou. France. 2019. 102mins

Juliette Binoche excels as 50-year-old woman who forms an obsessive virtual attachment, both to the younger man she initially friends on Facebook as a way of spying on her former lover, and to the desirable, 24-year-old avatar she creates for herself. Although the relationship is based on lies, the emotional connection is devastatingly real on both sides. Putting aside for a moment the ludicrous idea that Binoche is not a total knockout who would leave piles of lovelorn men in her wake, this is a compulsively watchable drama which taps into some genuinely intriguing themes. A twisted and tangled final act makes heavy weather of some of its reveals, but Binoche is terrific throughout.

Binoche is superb, conveying the depths of Claire’s churning internal conflict with just a nervy flicker of the eyes

The terrain of social media is one which almost invites deceit, and films such as the documentary Catfish have already explored the experience of being duped by a constructed character. But what this film, adapted from the novel by Camille Laurens, eloquently achieves is an insight into the motives and mindset of someone who, for whatever reason, no longer feels worthy of attention. This, together with Binoche in the central role, has already made this an attractive proposition for buyers. The film has sold to numerous territories worldwide and should find as receptive an audience in arthouse theatres as it will in festivals. And don’t discount an English language remake.

Binoche is Claire, a divorced university professor and the mother of two sons. Online, however, she is also Clara, an intern in a fashion events company who hits the like button on a couple of Facebook posts by Alex (François Civil). Alex is the friend and assistant of Ludo (Guillaume Gouix), the lover who wounded Claire’s pride with his casual rejection. Claire is an intelligent, successful woman but even so, she derives at least some of her self-esteem from the admiration of men. Being desired, she explains to her studiously impassive therapist (Nicole Garcia) is “a pleasure I never wanted to give up.

Safy Nebbou, who adapted the screenplay with Julie Peyr, (a regular collaborator of Arnaud Desplechin), strikes a delicate balance here between a character who is both eminently relatable and pathologically self-destructive. There is something almost Hitchcockian in the film’s approach – it guards its secrets every bit as jealously as Claire does.

Her lies in the virtual world are matched, we learn, by some significant omissions in the information she shares in the real world. Binoche is superb, that face which seems to have been precisioned tooled to be filmed in extreme close up conveying the depths of Claire’s churning internal conflict with just a nervy flicker of the eyes.

Nebbou seeds the film with satisfying details. The score playfully echoes the longed for sound of a message alert; her addict’s attachment to her phone starts to eat away daily life. Claire’s apartment is full of glass which constantly reflects back to her the increasingly unwelcome fact of who she really is. And it’s clear during Claire’s lecture on the self-determination of the Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liaisons Dangereuses that she is in fact talking about herself. Not content with creating a new identity, Claire goes one step further and redrafts the entire narrative of her life.

Perhaps it’s the contrast with the slippery elegance of the storytelling which comes before it, but the final act stumbles a little in its quest to reveal the truth. That said, this is a film which doesn’t outstay its welcome, maintaining its tricky allure to the very last shot.

Production companies: Diaphana Films

International sales: Playtime festival@playtime.group

Producer: Michel Saint-Jean

Screenplay: Safy Nebbou, Julie Peyr, based on the novel by Camille Laurens

Production design: Cyril Gomez Mathieu

Editing: Stéphane Pereira

Cinematography: Gilles Porte

Music: Ibrahim Maalouf

Cast: Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Nicole Garcia, Marie-Ange Casta, Guillaume Gouix, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin, Charles Berling, Claude Perron