Who You Think I Am

 

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A film which asks if today's online technology offers a shipwreck or a life raft.

 
Who You Think I Am

Juliette Binoche and François Civil 

 

I don't know the novel by Camille Laurens on which Safy Nebbou, the writer and director here, has based his film but on screen it comes over as very much a work in two parts. The first of these is absorbing and that is partly because the crucial central role, that of a middle-aged university lecturer named Claire, is played by Juliette Binoche who is on her very best form. But the film also appears to have another ace up its sleeve on account of subject matter that is very much of today.

 

Framed by scenes between Claire and her female therapist (a role in which Nicole Garcia achieves an adroit balance with Binoche), a series of flashbacks reveal the extent of Claire's dissatisfactions. A divorced mother of two boys whose husband of twenty years (Charles Berling) had left her for a younger woman, Claire has also been ditched by Ludo (Guillaume Gouix) who had subsequently become her youthful lover. This brings to a head her awareness of her age and the decreasing likelihood of attracting men. Not wanting to accept these changes she goes online calling herself Clara and sets up a profile of herself as a 24-year-old. Before long this step leads to her developing a rapport with a photographer, Alex (François Civil), who sends a   response believing that she is indeed the younger woman she claims to be since he accepts as genuine the pictures which she posts that are supposedly of her.

 

Comments are made in passing of how older women are far more likely than men to earn disapproval if they seek younger partners and, aware that Alex is drawn to Clara because she is a suitable age for him, Claire desperately sidesteps his wish that they should meet even if she has succeeded in having phone sex with him. However, the main focus of this believable story is on the technology that today enables virtual relationships to develop, a fantasy world built on a false basis that can nevertheless lead to emotional commitments however misguided. Claire's story, not without touches of comic absurdity as well as of underlying pathos, prompts the viewer to ponder and to question this aspect of modern life even as Claire seeks to justify her actions by claiming the she is not fictionalising an alternative life for herself but is endeavouring to realise her own true self at last.

 

Both the acting and the theme ensure that we are fully engaged for an hour, but at that point Who You Think I Am changes its character completely as it develops a narrative involving a whole series of unlikely twists. Following the first of these, the film suddenly embarks on illustrating at some length a clearly fictional version of the path that Claire's life might have taken as written up by Claire herself. Once that is done we are offered a resolution central to which is the revelation by Claire to her therapist of a key fact that she has kept hidden, a belated disclosure that seems unlikely in itself. Consequently, while the first hour feels meaningful and contemporary the rest of the film is closer to the kind of melodrama that really belongs to a past age of cinema.  By the close we could hardly be further from what the piece had looked set to deliver. If you share my taste you are bound to end up disappointed by Who You Think I Am, but even so Binoche is so good and the first hour so thought-provoking that the film is worth seeing despite what I take to be its weaknesses.

 
Original title:  Celle que vous croyez.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Nicole Garcia, François Civil, Guillaume Gouix, Charles Berling, Marie-Ange Casta, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin, Francis Leplay, Pierre Giraud, Sonia Mohammed Cherif, Claude Perron.

 

Dir Safi Nebbou, Pro Michel Saint-Jean, Screenplay Safi Nebbou, from the novel by Camille Laurens, Ph Gille Porte, Art Dir Cyril Gomez-Mathieu, Ed Stéphane Pereira, Music Ibrahim Maalouf, Costumes Alexandra Charles.

 

Diaphana Films/France 3 Cinéma/Scope Pictures/Canal+/Ciné+/Playtime-Curzon.
102 mins. France/Belgium. 2018. Rel: 10 April 2020.
Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.