×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Who You Think I Am’

A catfish story told from the predator's point of view, this Juliette Binoche starrer balances wry character study with crackling thriller mechanics.

Director:
Safy Nebbou
With:
Juliette Binoche, Nicole Garcia, François Civil, Guillaume Gouix, Charles Berling, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin.

1 hour 41 minutes

For a film that hinges entirely on the deceptive nature of appearances, it’s appropriate that “Who You Think I Am” wears a few genre disguises itself en route to a double-edged conclusion. Leading Juliette Binoche’s unhappily divorced academic through the tricks and turns of online catfishing, the film’s premise seems poised at any minute to break into either a mature romantic comedy in the Nancy Meyers vein or a “Fatal Attraction”-style psychothriller. Rare is the film that would feel equally comfortable following either of those paths; rarer still is one that, somehow, winds up threading both needles, as writer-director Safy Nebbou tucks bittersweet human observations between unabashedly outlandish twists. With Binoche once more on beguiling form, in a role that feels like an unhinged sister to her romantically restless artist in “Let the Sunshine In,” this slinky entertainment can expect numerous distributors’ friend requests.

Premiering in the Berlinale’s often inauspicious Special program — it might have made an offbeat Competition entry, if not for Binoche’s stint as this year’s jury president — “Who You Think I Am” is a surprise package that plays its trump cards with shrugging insouciance, yielding giggles and gasps in equal measure, sometimes at once. It’s certainly a diagonal step up for Nebbou, whose more workmanlike previous features weren’t this breezily eccentric. That said, his unobtrusively polished direction plays it cool, leaving the showmanship largely to the screenplay,  adapted from a 2016 novel by Camille Laurens. Well, the screenplay and his leading lady’s endlessly expressive, emotive face — to which Gilles Porte silky lensing tends to besottedly cede most of the frame. Here’s a star vehicle that knows where the money is.

On the, er, face of it, it’s initially hard to imagine how perma-radiant Juliette Binoche — as opposed to her character, fiftyish literature professor and mother-of-two Claire — might have trouble holding male interest in the revolving Parisian dating scene. But life is not a star vehicle, and the script is frank and perceptive about the cloak of invisibility that, past a certain age, even the most charismatic women take on in the eyes of many men.

Already insecure about ageing, Claire remains principally attracted to younger guys; after all, if her ex-husband (Charles Berling) could leave her for a woman young enough to be her daughter, why can’t she play the same field? Claire confesses this and more to her quietly quizzical psychoanalyst Dr. Bormans (Nicole Garcia) in what turns out to be a crucial framing device, dipping the story into shifty realms of potentially unreliable narration and outright fantasy.

After a dalliance with jockish stud Ludo (Guillaume Gouix) fades into unanswered phone calls, Claire nurses her wounded confidence by turning to social media — inventing a fake profile for imaginary 25-year-old fashion intern “Clara” in order to cyber-stalk Ludo and his attractive bro circle. What starts as a mildly vengeful mind game takes a serious turn, however, when “Clara” and Ludo’s handsome, sensitive roommate Alex (François Civil) spark up an intimate, text-based attraction: Messages turn into phone calls, phone calls turn into phone sex, and before long Alex, convinced he’s found his soulmate, is desperate to meet. Claire, meanwhile, is increasingly guilt-ridden over her escalating identity as predatory poisson-chat; the mental health of both virtual lovers takes a turn for the worse, as the film itself spirals into fevered Hitchcockian melodrama.

The filmmaking adjusts accordingly, with jazz musician Ibrahim Maalouf’s hitherto spare, supple score steadily ramping things up to onze. But before that savory point of no return, “Who You Think I Am” works in a lower key as a dry little comedy of manners, milking much mirth from generational conflict and changing codes of online etiquette. (Binoche’s expression of abject, panicked incomprehension when Alex asks for her “insta” is a picture worth the price of admission alone.)

Claire’s repeated therapy sessions with Dr. Bormans, meanwhile, are more than a mere device enabling a secret-bearing protagonist to speak her mind: The two women’s long verbal volleys, played with mutually watchful cunning by Binoche and Garcia, are laced with perceptive, lightly caustic commentary about the disproportionate degree to which women’s social and sexual behavior is scrutinized and judged by society, themselves included. (After she’s teased by friends for being a “cougar,” someone ponders what the equivalent male term is; “Isn’t that a man?” comes the pithy reply.)

“Who You Think I Am” arrives at such truths via some pretty loopy byways, and there will be those who think its merry game-playing skates past the line of silliness. Yet Binoche keeps things credible when Claire starts making no sense even to herself. For anyone who’s ever been catfished or ghosted on the dating trail — or been an offender themselves — her evocation of exhilarated human connection and terrified self-sabotage is uncomfortably easy to empathize with, all written in a rich, deepening network of dimples and frown lines.

Film Review: 'Who You Think I Am'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 10, 2019. Running time: 101 MIN. (Original title: "Celle que vous croyez")

Production: (France) A Diaphana Films production in coproduction with France 3 Cinema, Scope Invest. (International sales: Playtime, Paris.) Producer: Michel Saint-Jean.

Crew: Director: Safy Nebbou. Screenplay: Nebbou, Julie Peyr, adapted from the novel by Camille Laurens. Camera (color): Gilles Porte. Editor: Stéphane Pereira. Music: Ibrahim Maalouf.

With: Juliette Binoche, Nicole Garcia, François Civil, Guillaume Gouix, Charles Berling, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin.

More Film

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content