Starring: Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Nicole Garcia
Director: Safy Nebbou
Running Time: 101 mins
Who You Think I Am (Celle que vous croyez) is a French film about a middle-aged woman who develops a relationship with a young man over online message, while pretending to be a woman of his same age.
At the outset, this film may seem like a slow, perhaps heavily cerebral drama without a wide appeal. However, dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that Who You Think I Am is actually a thrilling, sleek and deeply enthralling watch.
With a dynamite lead performance from Juliette Binoche and arresting direction from Safy Nebbou, it’s a slow-burn thriller that you really won’t want to take your eyes away from, as it continues to surprise with regular twists and consistently thought-provoking themes.
The overall premise is simple. Who You Think I Am plays out as a romantic drama between Juliette Binoche, who pretends to be a younger woman online, and François Civil, who we almost only hear by voice and see by text message.
The story therefore looks at the practice known as ‘catfishing’ (pretending to be someone else online). However, rather than simply looking at the morality of the practice – which is a fairly straightforward debate – Who You Think I Am is a film that takes a really wide perspective, and seeks to understand and discuss a lot more about how this kind of situation comes about.
As a result, though the inevitably doomed online relationship is agonising to watch unfold, the film’s most interesting suit is its perspective on female emancipation and liberation – using Binoche’s middle-aged character as an example of how women are pigeonholed into roles to conform with by the pressures of society.
In portraying her character’s desire to break out of that role, Binoche gives a powerful performance that blends an inspiring and passionate show of female independence with a striking sense of unhinged obsession. As a result, while you certainly sympathise with her character and her motivations throughout the story, that tinge of darker, obsessive personality makes her an ambiguous and often unpredictable lead throughout the film.
And that’s where Who You Think I Am is really able to stretch its legs as an all-out thriller. It certainly doesn’t have the pacing to be considered your average thrill ride – playing out at a very patient tempo with intimate dialogue scenes the central focus – but there’s a bubbling air of cagey tension that grows and grows throughout, which makes the film a captivating watch right to the finish.
Director Safy Nebbou does a brilliant job at injecting that tension and dramatic eeriness into the mix throughout. He’s able to make sure the film retains its slow, pensive atmosphere (which allows its dramatic themes to really come out), but also creates genuine excitement with a sleek, modern visual style and a powerfully tense aura in every scene through the film.
The film is at its best in the second act – where tension and thought-provoking dramatic depth work hand in hand. Meanwhile, the third act brings some shocking twists to the table, taking the story in an unexpected direction towards the finish – although it’s fair to say the screenplay piles on a few too many twists in the closing stages, bringing things to a slightly more convoluted end than perhaps necessary.
Saying that, I was really impressed by Who You Think I Am. A gripping drama that works just as well as an unnerving and exciting thriller, it’s a sleek, stylish film that’s full of riveting and thought-provoking dramatic depth. The lead performance from Juliette Binoche is excellent, and director Safy Nebbou does well to balance the film’s numerous different styles and ideas throughout. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 7.8 overall.