Every time there is a new Juliette Binoche performance it’s a hearty reminder that she is probably our greatest living actor. The new thriller Who You Think I Am, directed by Safy Nebbou, permits the star to show off a bit. With each passing scene the actress seems to be challenging herself to do more with less. Then, out of nowhere, a monologue in the middle of the film knocks your socks off. The picture ultimately reveals itself to be a masterclass in performance.
Binoche plays Claire, a professor recently dumped by her young lover Ludo. A woman scorned, she creates a fake social media profile in order to friend her ex. Posing as a 24-year-old blonde, Claire is soon in intimate online communication with Alex (François Civil), Ludo’s best friend. Rejuvenated by this fresh, passionate mutual attraction, she finds it harder and harder to break the spell that’s been cast over Facebook.
At a certain point in the story, a question is asked: “When someone dies, what do we do with their virtual identity?” It’s a haunting prompt. Nebbou utilizes the obsession thriller sub-genre to confront these strange, not-so-new ethnical dilemmas of our virtual lives. In Binoche’s Claire is the perfect conduit: a middle-aged woman whose naivety to technology (when Alex asks if she’s on “Insta” over chat, she looks up confused: “Insta?”) allows her to be as enchanted by her deception as she is cynical. What initially plays as innocent is soon anything but. It’s an empathetic devolution, once so brutally captured in Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s now-iconic documentary Catfish. How easy is it to become the best (and worst) version of yourself when there’s no one to look you in the eye.
Alongside Binoche, composer Ibrahim Maalouf (an accomplished French-Lebanese jazz trumpeter) is the MVP here. Throughout, Maalouf employs the sounds of a mobile device pinging with an update. It’s a clever, cutting creative choice. Brooding, bass-heavy in certain moments, sweeping and lush in others, the music often leads the characters’ emotions. The camera matches these dramatic swells with impressive aerial shots, literally broadening what is mostly a contained, tense piece of work.
Adapted from Camille Laurens’ novel (the script co-written by Julie Peyr and Nebbou), there is a meta framework to the narrative that is mostly successful. Claire has a series of sessions with her therapist (Nicole Garcia, wonderful), discussing her growing obsession and the resulting consequences. Twists and turns abound. In spots, the bookended dialogue can feel a bit didactic, though it’s all in service of a near-perfect final beat.
There are some on-the-nose elements (Claire teaching literary characters to her class that reflect her exact feelings) and underserved subplots (Claire’s fracturing relationship with her children comes and goes without a second thought), but these compromises make room for a punchy, socially-relevant piece of work with a bit more bite than is to be expected. Who You Think I Am works as both an actor’s showcase and a thriller with some meat on its bones.
Who You Think I Am is now in theaters.