Metro Weekly

Who You Think I Am review: Juliette Binoche shines in catfishing psychological thriller

Juliette Binoche delivers a knockout performance as a divorcée caught up in a catfishing romance in "Who You Think I Am"

who you think I am
Who You Think I Am: Juliette Binoche — Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

On a crowded train platform in Paris, 50-ish college professor Claire (Juliette Binoche), still freshly divorced, awaits the arrival of her new lover. She watches surreptitiously as the much younger man, Alex (François Civil), bounds with searching eyes from his train onto the platform. Claire and Alex have engaged in phone sex, but have never met face-to-face. Flush with anticipation, she simply hopes he’ll see her and sense that she’s the one. But he’s not there to meet Claire. Alex has texted, chatted with, and fallen in love with a woman he met online named Clara, the lushly beautiful 25-year old that Claire has claimed to be. Expecting to finally lay eyes on his hot young blonde, Alex doesn’t see Claire at all.

What Claire does or doesn’t do next helps shape a mystery that Who You Think I Am (★★★★☆) writer-director Safy Nebbou doesn’t firmly resolve. Rather, the film, based on the 2017 novel Celle que vous croyez by Camille Laurens, keeps you guessing until the end, a psychological thriller that truly pivots around the winding thought processes of an unpredictable and intriguing protagonist. In the assured hands of Oscar-winner Binoche, Claire manages to be sympathetic if not faultless, despite being plainly delusional in her determination to sustain two identities, one of which is completely fabricated.

Claire admits to her delusions in sessions with her therapist, Catherine (Nicole Garcia), to whom she elaborates her tale of baiting eager Alex with a fake Facebook profile and photo. The sessions, played by Binoche and Garcia like two chess masters in combat, are like a game within the game. It becomes clear that Claire is not the most reliable narrator even when she’s not masquerading online as Clara. Alex won’t be the only one she hopes to fool.

Who You Think I Am: Juliette Binoche and François Civil — Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group

What starts as Claire’s unadvisable rebound from a rebound becomes an all-consuming love affair stitched from a web of lies. Yet, in the midst of catfishing Alex, she still has classes to teach, a book to write, and an ex-husband, Gilles (Charles Berling), to argue with over scheduling for their two sons. Nebbou effectively mines the mounting tension and poignant comedy of Claire frantically trying to juggle her truth and fiction in a world that’s changed dramatically for singles in the 20 years she was married to Gilles. “What’s Insta?,” she googles. She has lots of catching up to do.

Binoche, slipping fluidly between Claire’s competing personas, swims in the character’s vulnerability but also shows the power Claire finds in cleaning her slate, and filling out the identity she chooses. She blossoms into a triumphant version of herself, loved for her heart and intellect and sensuality. Civil, a rising star in France, heard more than seen here via Alex and Clara’s lusty phone chats, conveys a longing that won’t be denied. Claire greedily feeds on Alex’s attention. Alongside her bliss, the film stirs an air of anti-romance, the dread underlying her charade of the imminent moment that it all blows up in her face.

While Gilles Porte’s rich cinematography and the taut editing reinforce a sexy thriller atmosphere, the script and Binoche’s performance promise something several layers deeper. The portrait of Claire feels whole, even though the darkest corners remain obscure. The film seems to want to leave viewers guessing as to where exactly Claire’s fiction leaves off, and her truth begins and ends. Nebbou’s handling of one particular third-act twist tangles the web perhaps more than intended, and perhaps more than the movie could stand — if it weren’t for Binoche, brilliant as both the cunning spider, spinning gossamer, and hapless prey, struggling to own her freedom.

Who You Think I Am opens Friday, Sept. 3 at the Landmark E Street Cinema. Visit www.landmarktheatres.com.

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