Who You Think I Am (2019)

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With most cinematic activity reduced to a minimum for the last few weeks and for the foreseeable future, one actress seems to have bucked that trend and unintentionally become the icon of my isolation; Juliette Binoche! With The Truth marking my first review of a VOD release back at the end of March, Binoche is back to keep me company once again with French drama Who You Think I Am, originally titled Celle que vouz croyez.

Based on a 2017 novel by Camille Laurens, Who You Think I Am tells the story of Claire Millaud (Juliette Binoche), a middle aged university professor who begins a catfishing relationship with Alex (Francois Civil), a friend of a temporary romantic flame. Under the guise of 24 year old ‘Clara’, Claire’s gratification and obsession get deeper and darker as her target’s affection and attachment grow, and film’s structure and narrative splits off into a series of flashbacks and current day snapshots that weave together to tell a story that boasts more than a few satisfying twists.

In terms of the standard psychological thriller with a romantic/sexual central focus, Who You Think I Am does a pretty effective job at keeping the audience invested and guessing from start to finish. Whilst a more recognisable narrative might put you in the position of the ‘catfish-ee’, trying to figure out the truth, this story instead puts you in cahoots with Claire as she continues to make worse and worse decisions, and that perspective is an equally intriguing and disturbing one to be aligned with.

There is a familiar Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train type atmosphere to the story, but there is something very ‘un-Hollywood’ in the sensibility of the filmmaking that makes it feel more real and less farfetched, especially as the intricacies of the twists are revealed. There is a pitiful tone to much of the narrative rather than a villainous one, and the narrative plays out much more like some kind of Greek tragedy than a campy whodunnit. Disregarding the credits, the film probably clocks in at under 90 minutes of actual action, and that is a huge benefit. The audience are pretty much thrown in to the universe without any unnecessary set up or exposition.

The story feels very economic and efficient, telling only what we need to know and letting the rest of the action speak for itself as the drama unfolds. Nobody would call Who You Think I Am a masterpiece of suspense or psychological drama cinema, but it certainly provides an engrossing and watchable time.

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There are aspects of this film that could have come across as somewhat trashy had they been left with a lesser performer, but as she tends to do, Juliette Binoche really elevates the material. As Claire, Binoche isn’t afraid to lean into the uncomfortable to create a character that seems so level headed at work yet so troubled and problematic behind a computer or phone screen. When things get awkward, it’s because they are intended to feel that way; Binoche always seems in control of the levels of her performance.

Something I love about watching foreign language films, thinking of France in particular in this instance, is that their iconic leading actresses don’t appear to have the same reservations as their Hollywood counterparts. Thinking about Juliette Binoche here and also recently in High Life, along with Isabelle Huppert in, well, everything, these stars are willing to do things and go to places on camera that most their age in Tinseltown. Having said that, I’m also well away of the fact that Hollywood gives fewer opportunities to actresses over 50…

Overall, Who You Think I Am is a solid drama that has some interesting things to say about the supposed ‘over the hill-ness’ of middle aged women, the relatively new phenomenon of living an online life, and the sinister and damaging ways in which these two can combine in a heightened thriller setting. I’m not sure it’ll stick in my mind for longer than a few weeks, but I’m always happy to add another Juliette Binoche picture to my list.

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