Get ready for a terrific psychological thriller, a 2019 French film now in theaters: WHO YOU THINK I AM starring iconic French megastar Juliette Binoche. I have no idea who she is in real life, though I have interviewed her several times over several decades and countless films. I think she must be the hardest working woman in show biz. As I think about her oeuvre from her stunning debut on the international stage in her first English language role opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in 1988’s “The unbearable Lightness of Being,” through her Oscar-winning performance in 1996’s “The English Patient” (one of only 5 French actresses to win an Oscar), to her recent performance as herself in the French TV series now on Netflix “Call My Agent!” (original French title “Dix pour cent”) the woman remains an ageless wonder of expressivity, versatility, and beauty.
In “Who You Think I Am” she plays Claire, a 50 year-old divorced mom and literature professor who sets up a fake Facebook profile in order to spy on a younger lover who has ghosted her. She then becomes embroiled in an online relationship with his roommate, a relationship that becomes increasingly and mutually obsessive.
Claire’s online fantasy persona is “Clara” a beautiful, 24 year-old in the fashion industry. But as Claire explains to her therapist (Nicole Garcia) “I am not pretending to be 24. I am 24.” And that is just one of the many layers of the psychological onion peeled for our delectation. Based on the best-selling novel by Camille Laurens, “Who You Think I Am” is directed and co-written (with Julie Peyr) by Safy Nebbou who has turned out a film that is remarkably controlled, accumulating detail precisely, knowing what to reveal and when in ever-widening circles of consideration for maximum impact, building suspense, and emotional and intellectual intrigue.
It was particularly amusing to me to watch a woman of a certain age attempt to convincingly inhabit the parlance and nuanced communication style of a contemporary 24 year-old. I laughed as Claire quickly googled “insta” while Facebooking with Alex (Francois Civil) the handsome young photographer who’s being cat fished. The film gathers tension as Alex pushes to meet Clara in the flesh. This dueling duality, between what’s real and what’s fake in a world where the two are often conflated, is reiterated in the cinematography via shots of reflections off mirrors and screens, through revolving doors and windows. In a time when the virtual wields increasingly outsized power, the analogue audience is kept on edge.
How far will Claire/Clara take it– or will it take her? I had many ideas, and saw little of what happened coming. It is part revenge thriller, romantic fantasy, psychological conundrum, meditation on love and betrayal, identity and aging, dreams and reality — and more than I want to reveal. Let’s just say I was caught off guard by the ending and its ripple effect as the credits rolled. What Binoche reveals throughout is an unending sensuality, vulnerability, and command of a serene mask of a visage onto which we can project anything she chooses to suggest with a shadowed look, a curl of the lip, a widening of the eyes, sudden tears. She’s by turns a woman scorned, a vulnerable lover, a sexy femme fatale, a brainy academic, a lonely mother, an unbalanced depressive. It’s a thrilling performance by an actress who is capacious enough to contain all these dimensions in one coherent performance. “Who You Think I Am” is that rarity these days–a sexy, sophisticated entertainment for a discerning adult audience. In French with English subtitles , now in theaters! See it at Landmark Kendall Square Cinema!