Who You Think I Am
Juliette Binoche, Francois Civil, Nicole Garcia, Charles Berling
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Binoche moves beyond her sometimes-glassy demeanour to show a fuller range of emotion.
This French drama could not be described as a straight romance, nor quite as a thriller but it has elements of both. Based on a recent popular French novel, it explores the very contemporary phenomenon of online dating and the temptations to fake or polish one’s online self. The fact that it stars the indefatigable Juliet Binoche (still a plausible romantic lead at 55) is bound to give its initial box office a boost.
Here, Binoche moves beyond her sometimes-glassy demeanour to show a fuller range of emotion. Her character is not entirely sympathetic (see below) but she holds our attention throughout.
The mushrooming of social media inside modern life (here with le Facebook as the French know it) is cropping up more and more in films these days, as it more or less has to if they want to inhabit the zeitgeist. The origins of this aspect of the web are rooted in the apparently universal desire to share all, and this can intersect (often dangerously) with the need to connect intimately. If we stop and think about it, intimacy is something that can only take root if we are fully honest, but when it is so easy to project a false or idealised image, that honesty is often fatally undermined.
This is the dilemma that eventually grows like a cancer inside the life of Claire (Binoche). She is a middle-aged separated woman who is still able to attract much younger men. Soon she starts to flirt online with twenty-something Alex (Francois Civil). She can’t help herself really when she borrows some photos of a younger woman to entice her new prospect. Of course, the poet’s adage hovers over this decision; “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive”.
One of the problems with showing this new world is that so many scenes are essentially static, with us just looking at someone typing into their phone or computer. Perhaps the director could have opened it out more, or balanced this with more dynamic interactive scenes.
The excellent Charles Berling is a bit wasted in his underwritten role as Claire’s ex, and Claire’s relationship with the obligatory analyst (played largely unsympathetically by Nicole Garcia) become routinised.
It is important to our enjoyment of the film (directed by a man incidentally, who previously directed 2008’s Mark of an Angel, which has, coincidentally, been remade into the Australian film Angel of Mine, premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August) that we don’t judge Claire too harshly. She is insecure or prone to being narcissistic, but who isn’t today, at least a little? She could also be seen as forced into an impossible position by a youth-obsessed culture. Perhaps we can agree that she didn’t set out to hurt anybody. However, as Gustav Flaubert understood (in that seminal French work Madame Bovary), fate is both merciless and without rancour once the mechanism has been tripped. Claire is neither pure victim nor heroine, but she is recognisably human in her folly.