Who You Think I Am review: A tale of catfishing and existential crisis, saved by Juliette Binoche's screen presence
It’s hard to empathise with a catfishing predator so the movie employs a few plot twists and split narratives to keep its momentum
On the surface, writer-director Safy Nebbou’s Who You Think I Am is a tale of an attractive and dignified middle-aged professor turning into a sexually obsessed stalker of a man 20 years younger than her. Focussing on a manipulative imposter who channels her midlife crisis into a self-absorbed and sexualised Internet romance, the movie has no reason to work but it mostly does, thanks to a combination of factors. First of which is its lead Juliette Binoche’s magnificent screen presence. Secondly, the movie keeps the viewer guessing with its motive, oscillating as it is between a fatal-attraction type romance and a tragicomedy.
Based on a novel by Camille Laurens, Who You Think I Am opens with a passionate love making session between Claire Millaud (Binoche) and Ludo (Guillaume Gouix). It’s clear that their relationship is straining because the rugby-playing stud Ludo is sexually losing interest in her. Claire’s worst fears come to fruition when Ludo ghosts her and stops answering her calls.
Frustrated, Claire creates a fake Facebook profile on a whim, pretending to be a young girl and makes friends with Ludo’s angelic photographer roommate Alex (François Civil). The online relationship takes off between them, replete with plenty of phone sex and the like, further fueling Claire’s obsession. At some point, Claire realises she can never meet him because she’s an imposter but she can also never let go of the obsession that is slowly consuming her life that includes her two children.
Much of the movie unspools in therapy sessions between Claire and Dr Bormans (Nicole Garcia) in which she confesses, quite unapologetically, to catfishing an innocent young man and that she may have harmed him. Still, ironic as it is, she is the one that needs therapy. The fact that the movie’s basic premise is based on Claire’s point of view, who is a predator, makes it an interesting narrative device but it’s hard to avoid some pretty logical questions. For instance, it’s so obvious to the viewer that Claire is leading Alex on, rather unconvincingly so, and that a young and attractive man like Alex is so unsuspecting about the fishiness of this whole affair.
The narrative’s pace speeds up when the movie flips the script on its head with a twist and teeters on the edge of changing tracks into a drama midway. Some more obvious questions linger. When Dr Bormans’s asks her why Claire decided to use her cousin’s picture to play the impostor, she doesn’t have a realistic answer. The only motive is that she wants to punish her cousin for having stolen her husband from her.
It’s also obvious that Claire’s insecurities about ageing are haunting her, despite her being successful, charismatic and intelligent. "There is no greater rival than one who doesn't exist," she says philosophically, referring to her relationship with her own online persona. Equal parts caustic and brimming with sarcasm, the chemistry between Claire and Dr Borman is often the highlight of the movie, even as the narrative slacks when Borman asks her to write her own script to the whole episode and get over it.
Ibrahim Maalouf’s score complements the movie’s urban mood and Gilles Porte’s camera is unabashedly in love with Binoche’s expressive face, filling the screen with it as often as it can. Safy Nebbou and Julie Peyr’s screenwriting offers enough commentary on the loneliness of urban lives even as social media provides an illusion of human connection.
It’s hard to empathise with a catfishing predator so the movie employs a few plot twists and split narratives to keep its momentum. All that said, if it weren’t for the splendor of Binoche, Who You Think I Am has the danger of being perceived as unexcitingly trite.
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