Loneliness is a painful emotion. Whether you’re surrounded by people or not, the feeling that you are truly alone can cause even the most rational people to do all kinds of things. We are, after all, all human and subject to the whims of our emotions.
Enter Juliette Binoche as Claire, a 50ish publisher and professor and divorcée who is making her way unhappily through life. After she is spurned by Ludo –the younger man she has been seeing– when she suggests they spend some real-time together, she decides she would like to enact some revenge upon him. To that end, she creates Clara, a gorgeous 24-year-old avatar to bait Ludo with. After several glasses of wine and friend requests, she receives a message, but it’s not Ludo she has hooked; it’s his roommate Alex.
This is where things start to go a little sideways, and also where I am going to do my best to stop speaking about the plot as this one has many twists and turns, and I don’t want to spoil any of them.
The story is related to us via Claire’s therapist, to whom she is recounting her tale. The framing device isn’t a new one, but it is used to great effect. While Binoche is great as the unreliable narrator of her own life, Nicole Garcia gives a masterful performance as a therapist doing her best to not comment on the story she is being told but also speaking volumes with a simple look or flutter of the eyebrow.
This is the Juliette Binoche show, though, and she really is in top form. As her catfishing expedition goes every deeper and she begins to become obsessed with the chats and phone calls she shares with Alex, she swings back and forth between radiant and shattered sincerely and honestly. Despite that she’s the predator in the story, you can’t help but sympathize with her. The story does remind us how female desires are looked down upon or even ridiculed in society, and it’s honestly kind of great to see that acknowledgement of the desires of a middle-aged woman in this way (even if these specific desires are a little… ethically dubious).
Also, Binoche is hilarious. Much of the first and second act is just her on-screen typing messages and trying to decide what a 24-year-old would say, or speaking with Alex on the phone whilst also postponing her life (a mid-film scene where she is meant to be picking up her kids from school is particularly funny) and her line delivery in every case is pitch-perfect.
Who You Think I Am (side note: I think I prefer the French title, Celle que vous croyez, which roughly translates to The One You Believe) is a funny movie with plenty of laughs mined from dark places. So effective is this duality that for the first two acts, it’s actually unclear whether it will take a right turn into being a fun rom-com or a left turn into being a dark sexual thriller. Then once things really go off the rails in act three, it becomes something else altogether.
There are more twists and turns in the back half of the movie than there are on an old mountain road, and I won’t spoil them for you but suffice to say that yes, you will probably see at least one of them coming but don’t let that stop you, because there are definitely some you won’t and it’s the journey there that matters anyway.
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