Juliette Binoche’s tastes can stray towards the eclectic when it comes to choosing her projects, but Safy Nebbou’s crafty thriller is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Adapted from the novel by actor-turned-writer Camille Laurens, Binoche plays Claire, a 50 year-old university lecturer in literature who has divorced from her husband Gilles and been rejected by her latest, younger boyfriend, Ludo (Guillaume Gouix). Then, over the phone, she gets talking to Ludo’s flatmate Alex (François Civil), causing Claire to change tack.
She creates a fake Facebook profile of a much younger woman, Clara, choosing a phony picture and sending a friend request to Alex. Soon they are talking online and on the phone but Claire refuses to meet with her new man. Why should she spoil the fantasy that she’s enjoying, of being young and desirable? She scarcely seems concerned that there’s another person at the other end of the line meshed in this self-absorbed deception.
There are issues with the plot – that Alex never requests that they use FaceTime to chat, for example – but Nebbou and Julie Peyr’s script is nimble enough to stay ahead of the viewer. True, it has all the hallmarks of a French Fatal Attraction – and that in itself is no bad thing – but there’s a cerebral quality to the film too. Much of it is wrapped around her sessions with therapist Dr. Bormans (filmmaker Nicole Garcia), which acts as a spine for the narrative and a chance for us to reflect upon Claire.
Playing with issues of obsession, ageing, beauty and vanity, the film also deals with layers of fiction and fantasy, particularly in the final act, where the central relationship takes a unique direction. Shot with a cool head by Nebbou, Who You Think I Am offers up a fascinating insight into our need for validation in the digital age, and the dangers that online fantasies can present. Even if it’s difficult to believe the luminous Binoche as a woman spurned, her performance is typically classy. The result is a slippery story that comes loaded with surprise right to the end.
Who You Think I Am is available to stream from on 10 April.
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