Though her face is recognizable, Juliette Binoche may not be a familiar name to many. An established star in French cinema and celebrated internationally, the actress is also an artist, dancer and human rights activist. These talents have rewarded her with acclaim and numerous citations, including a Supporting Actress Oscar (“The English Patient” 1996).
In her newest film “Who You Think I Am” (in theatres), “La Binoche” (affectionately nicknamed) have critics lauding her role as Claire, a divorced college professor wrapped in a relationship with a stranger. Though they have never met, the two have shared steamy phone intimacies. In this unusual narrative, the 50’s something academic has conjured up a false personality on facebook, using a bogus profile and purloined online photo of a 24-year-old woman named Clara.
The initial meeting of the two unfolds at the train station, as Alex (François Civil) alights from the passenger coach, his eyes roaming anxiously over the crowd on the platform for the woman in the picture Claire had forwarded online. She’s uneasy, hopeful blind fate will overlook her deceptive maneuver, and that the much younger man, spots her, becomes mesmerized, abandons his quest for the face in the photograph, and zeros in on her.
Claire is in love with Alex but he’s enchanted with the 24-year-old beauty in the fake profile. However, as their relationship intensifies, her lies of an ex who is jealous, and a job demanding constant overtime hours requiring out of town professional trips, play havoc with her conscience. In sessions with her therapist Catherine (Nicole Garcia), she admits her delusions and scheme of enticing Alex with a deceptive Facebook profile and photo. The sequences with Binoche and Garcia play out like a stressful give and take chess match as Claire confesses her masquerade.
The narrative intrigues, unfolding a cleverly constructed psychological thriller weaving in, out, and around Claire’s unpredictable manipulation of fictional reality. Adapted from the 2017 novel “Celle Que Vous Croyez” by Camille Laurens, the film keeps the viewer guessing till fade out. Binoche reveals a morally ambiguous (anti) hero, because we grow to understand her motivations. Her elegance, poise, sensuality, and inherent heartbreak are visible throughout the film as her character careens between devious tactics and a sense of insecurity aided by online scrutiny.
No need to reveal further narrative entanglements that connect and suddenly zig zag because what you see is notwhat you get. It’s a reading on the manipulative power wielded by the social media to distort reality. “La Binoche” owns this film, and in cinema circles it’s being whisered aloud as one of the best films of the year.