Review: Who You Think I Am
by Fabien Lemercier
- BERLIN 2019: Juliette Binoche plays a fifty-year-old woman who is desperate for love and who reinvents herself online in Safy Nebbou’s film adaptation of Camille Laurens' novel
"When it comes to people like me, social networks are both a threat and a life raft." The French filmmaker, Safy Nebbou has chosen to cast Juliette Binoche in the rather challenging role of a woman sucked into the vortex of a double identity, submerged in the illusion of youth and love, in his adaptation of Camille Laurens’ novel, Who You Think I Am [+see also:
interview: Juliette Binoche
Presented at the 69th Berlinale special gala, Nebbou’s feature film owes a lot to its main actress’ performance, because despite its multi-narrative plot, it's by no means easy to create a dramatic story that primarily hinges on a protagonist scrolling through a mobile phone or laptop, with Facebook messages constituting the majority of the film's primary material. A great actress was vital to hold the film together and to play a woman abandoned by her husband, a victim of intense sadness and sleepless nights kept in check with Valium, as well as emotional void and a chasm that seems to get wider every time she looks in the mirror, with her potential to arouse desire slowly vanishing with the passing of time.
"A woman with drooping eyelids and a fading complexion." This is how Claire (Juliette Binoche) describes herself to her psychologist (Nicole Garcia), paving the way for a lengthy flashback that sees her as a university professor humiliated by Ludo (Guillaume Gouix), her casual lover ("I don't understand why you're calling me, I could practically be your son"), before trying to get closer to him by hitting it off with his friend, Alex (François Civil) on Facebook. Claire soon decides to invent a profile: Clara Antunes, 24 years old. A virtual alter-ego that will become increasingly important to her ("every word was chosen with care, one slip of the tongue and the magic could disappear"), leading to a budding romance. A photo quickly follows suit (that of "a random girl"), along with phone calls that start to become incessant, pervasive and sexual. Claire becomes addicted to this long-distance relationship ("he makes me feel alive") to the point of neglecting her motherly duties, causing her to topple almost completely into an imaginary world ("I did not pretend to be 24 years old, I was 24 years old." I let myself feel more and more like Clara and less and less like Claire"). Until the day Alex can wait no more: he wants to meet her in person...
Written by Safy Nebbou and Julie Peyr, the screenplay holds a few more surprises along the way (which are more or less believable), resulting in a web of lies that begin to spill over into the imaginary, and allowing the film to develop into a sort of thriller set in cold Parisian buildings adorned with floor-to-ceiling windows. This woman's secret online relationship slowly develops in front of our very eyes, before she begins to drown in the drunkenness of artificial love, shielded from the reality of her lonely despair by her phone screen. With Who You Think I Am, the director paints the portrait of a society based on modern communication, where dreaming with your eyes open is just one misstep away from tragedy.
(Translated from French)
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