Juliette Binoche is one of the most reliable actresses working in the world today, her reputation cemented with cross-generational roles in films such as Three Colours: Blue, Hidden and Let the Sunshine In amongst others. This status continues with a lead performance in Who You Think I Am, a somewhat timely psychological drama revolving around the mysterious behaviour of catfishing.
Binoche portrays Claire, a middle-aged professor divorced from a husband who left her for her niece and co-parenting her two sons. She engages in an affair with a younger man Ludovic of whom she stumbles upon the identity of his young roommate Alex (Francois Civil), which leads her to create a fake identity on Facebook under the name ‘Clara’ and engage him into a virtual friendship between the two, progressing into lust, hiding who she is.
Effectively coming alive with her newfound obsession, the idea that this cannot go on forever without at least a physical meeting suggests the pitfalls in her activity. With the seemingly-inevitable outing of the truth threatened with reveal, the plot thickens as the film’s interspersing of Claire’s visits to a psychologist (Nicole Garcia) are shown.
Binoche, in her mid-50s, shows she can continue to combine acting with sexiness as demonstrated when she engages in phone sex in her car with Alex or her steamy hotel tryst early on with Ludovic. Age is no boundary as director Safy Nebbou presents Binoche as a middle-aged woman desiring to remain sexually relevant in a younger woman’s world but with a hint of tragic desperation that her failed marriage may have motivated.
Like Let the Sunshine In, Binoche portrays someone whose desire for company is integral to the story, making this appear in some form what may have happened if Claire Denis chose to write that film as a psychological thriller.She is competent at making us buy into Claire as someone not one-dimensional. Her behaviour is morally wrong and not condonable but cruel is too strong a term for her, repressed rather.
Judging by the non-linear usage of the visits to the psychiatrist, we suspect this ruse would have had an outcome, guided by a second half providing a unique method of depicting what comes next with a bearable use of twists and turns for good measure.
The first half does take time to get involved with Binoche perhaps the only reason to keep going, the persistent imagery of Facebook messaging and phone conversation taking its time to elevate to something outside of catfish activity. One wonders what the outcome will be but the persistency in conversation does become long-winded and makes us impatient at times as we spend more time wondering what will be the result of this.
The second half is where the film is resuscitated with the storytelling becoming more adventurous and the allowance for moments that cause surprise as well as a modest sense of discomfort in a sequence where lies build upon lies. Some competent camerawork is also at hand in sequences where Claire observes Alex mere feet away from him in a train station, completely oblivious to her identity and ignorant of her looking at him, the desired effect achieved.
The pace is an issue for a time and the film’s final shot leaves room for questions but there is just about enough intrigue and delivery to qualify this is an imperfect but respectable look at a modern trickery, boosted by the involvement of its worthwhile lead.
OUT OF FOUR STARS: **1/2