Who you think I am?

Juliet Binoche is in high demand; this hot on the heels of The Truth and, I’m happy to say, more convincing.

Made before the current coronavirus isolation, this is a film about social distance and isolation, the impact it can have, and about the havoc that social media can play on our egos. In a world crowded with Zoom, Face-time and House-party, nothing has ever seemed more creepy – or real – than Safy Nebbou’s film about on-line stalking.

Claire Millaud (Binoche) is an attractive, fifty-something literature lecturer, who can speak eloquently and confidently to her students about women’s motivations in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Doll’s House. We first meet her in a session with her psychiatrist (Nicole Garcia) and realise she is quite unhinged as she tells her story through flashback. 

 ‘It all began with Ludo’ – a handsome young stud, played by Guillaume Gouix – with whom she enjoys energetic sex, but with no commitment on his part. Recently divorced, she’s seeking more than being a convenience lay. When he ghosts her, her attention turns to his friend Alex (François Civil, last seen in Call my agent) who Ludo uses to give her the brush off with a series of ludicrous lies.

Desperately hurt and realising that her age is a turn-off to Ludo, her attention becomes fixed on Alex, who seems a better bet. She invents an avatar, Clara, who is mid-twenties, in order to try and stalk him. Having attracted Alex’s attention through the simple trick of flattery (he is a photographer) they soon graduate from texts to exchanging breathless and erotic intimacies, 24/7. This is dangerous territory for Clara, but Claire seems impervious to the inherent dangers of unmasking. 

In a bit of bit of flaky plotting, it takes a while for Alex to insist on a meeting (Clara has sent photos of a gorgeous young thing), or even FaceTime…this phone-calling is awfully old-fashioned these days isn’t it? It doesn’t quite ring true. As the pressure mounts for this meeting, so the film takes on new twists and turns as Claire/Clara tries to find a way forward. At one point Alex looks straight through her, expecting to see a younger woman, and this simply reinforces her desire to remain in character as Clara, simultaneously knowing that this is unrealistic.

The truth is she has become Clara, and her whole life now revolves around her alter ego; her two sons are exasperated as she drives round the car park several times while on the phone when she should be picking them up for school. She is oblivious to the real world as she sighs and giggles coquettishly in the supermarket and in the library, attracting strange looks from the people around her.

She cannot tell fact from fiction; as Clara she is ‘alive’ and, most of all, as young as she feels she deserves to be. She may look middle-aged but she is convinced that really she is still in her mid-twenties. She lives for the green button on her phone telling her that Alex is ‘in the room’.

This is a clever film; you know that it can’t end well for all concerned, but Nebbou, with a sublime Binoche, leads us a merry dance as we thread in and out of scenarios, grounded by the intriguing therapy sessions in-between, where Claire tries to seduce her shrink into sympathy for her psychopathic traits.  

Binoche is on screen probably about 80% of the time, mostly on her own, and it is extraordinary how her face and expression can change from girlish to professional and careworn from shot to shot, reflecting the dichotomy of her position. Is she young, or is she old? Mother or lover? Nice-looking or beautiful? At the end it boils down to who you think she is, Clara or Claire. Or both…

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