Monday, March 27, 2023

Int’l Critics Line: Todd McCarthy On Juliette Binoche-Starrer ‘Who You Think I Am’

Juliette Binoche has a field day and then some in Who You Think I Am, an insidiously smart, multi-layered yarn that shrewdly plays with the possibilities that modern media offers for presenting alternate versions of oneself publicly and especially privately.


Author Camille Laurens got her finger firmly on the pulse of the times with her best-selling 2016 novel and director Safy Nebbou has followed up with a sharp adaptation which, despite being delayed by two years since its French opening pre-Covid, will still speak very clearly to American audiences due to its wicked, smarty-pants take on modern communication and relationships. Cohen Media Group will release theatrically in New York and LA, along with a few other markets, on September 3 before adding more on September 10.

Miraculously resisting what Marguerite Duras called “the thrust of time,” Binoche plays Claire, a woman who looks to be perhaps 40 rather than the actress’ real age of 57. In the event, she’s still mightily attractive to hunky young men, specifically Ludo, first seen servicing her with some back-door action prior to her delivering a lecture to students about Les Liaisons Dangereuses, no less.

But lest we think that Claire’s got it all going on to her satisfaction, she is unceremoniously dumped by Ludo. Claire is accustomed to being sought after and, while Ludo is quickly replaced by the eager and even younger Alex, Claire becomes distraught, afraid that she’s losing her allure.

Next stop — Facebook, where Claire can search, flirt and, unfortunately, also feel insecure, which leads her to give birth to a fantasy profile of a 25-year-old self she uses to spy on others. She readily admits to being a sensualist, that she’s still gotta have it. She also delves deeply into analysis with her shrink Catherine (Nicole Garcia), with whom she tries to break down the doctor/patient relationship into a personal “sharing” friendship. This is an unprofessional shift Catherine must resist, just as she has to sort out how much of what Claire tells her is true and what’s just made up.

Given the pronounced importance she gives to her amorous life, Claire needs to be reminded from time to time that she has two teenaged sons, who are just a bit younger than her new amour. But the boys take a back seat to her abiding obsession, which leads her — along with her shrink — into uncharted territory.

This is a high-wire act for all concerned, and there are moments where it’s uncertain where things are coming from and where they are going. Claire plays head games, says she’s writing a novel, is moving to Brazil (the film’s lone outdated detail), and at one point she hands Catherine a thick manuscript called Les Vraies Confidences (True Secrets) that is allegedly a full account of all the wild stuff she’s done. At this point, you wouldn’t even blame her shrink for giving up on such a determined fantasist and mind-game fanatic.

But author Laurens and director Nebbou remain on very intimate terms with this slippery and fascinating character, just as they draw a well-detailed portrait of the zeitgeist that spawned and now feeds the world in which she lives. The emotional underpinnings are both of-the-moment and eternal. With so many lives now being led online, and now under Covid more than ever, the everyday details of how people present themselves, communicate, size up and attract others are of more than considerable interest, and this film very much has its fingers on the pulse.

To be sure, there’s a pulpy side to this material, but it could be called, to coin a phrase, deep pulp, fabricated drama with roots firmly connected with legitimate contemporary concerns. And on top of that, you have Binoche at the top of her game as an accomplished intellectual who still can’t prevent her insecurities from getting the better of her. Indeed, in the face of even a momentary romantic setback, she becomes alarmingly manic, setting the stage for untoward behavior that doesn’t bode well.

This is modern melodrama of a relatively high order that allows an accomplished star to make a scene (many of them, in fact) that, in turn, illuminates the ways in which the latest modes of communication only heighten and foster elemental anxieties, insecurities and longings. It leaves very much open the question of whether we’re nearer to the end or just at the beginning of a long winter of discontent magnified to an unthinkable degree by technology.


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