Making the modern deception of catfish stalking intriguing rather than abhorrent is no mean feat.
French thriller Who You Think I Am pulls it off in twisted, intriguing style.
Juliette Binoche is incredible as a woman who spins a web of deceit and somehow still entangles our sympathies.
“She is a brilliant, very subtle and generous actor, and so much of what she does goes on underneath the surface,” Who You Think I Am director Safy Nebbou tells The New Daily over the phone from Paris.
“She has no fear, so I knew she could give this character the biggest dimensions.”
Binoche (The English Patient, Three Colours trilogy) has never shied away from tackling complex roles, but this enthralling adaptation of Camille Laurens’ novel is one of her most magnetic.
Leaning into those Fatal Attraction vibes, she plays Claire, a divorced 50-something university lecturer who is cruelly spurned by her 40-something lover at the start of the movie.
Succumbing to the old Facebook stalk, she checks out what her ex is up to and winds up falling for his younger, hunkier mate, budding photographer Alex (François Civil).
Creating a fake profile with a photo of a beautiful young woman, she begins by liking all of his pics then slides into his DMs.
Caught up in a whirlwind of words, a mutual obsession unfolds as Alex is inexorably drawn to this mysterious stranger and becomes desperate to meet her.
We should be appalled by Claire’s behaviour, but in a much darker, more adult take on hit Stan series Younger, Nebbou is smart enough to layer in a razor-sharp commentary on ageism and society’s urge to make the older woman disappear.
“There is a horrible saying here that women become invisible after 50,” he says.
Further complicating the plot of Who You Think I Am, we’re drip fed the detail in flashback as a clearly distraught Claire confesses to her psychiatrist (Nicole Garcia) how it all spun out of control.
But is she telling the truth, or is she twisting the narrative?
“I loved the social dimensions and the vertiginous structure of the novel,” Nebbou says of the urge to film it.
“Its construction is completely based on this permanent doubt.”
The exhilarating entrapment is all the more layered because Binoche is still a very sensual screen presence. As she and Civil dance around each other with near misses that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock thriller, you can never quite pick where things are going next.
Impeccably shot in noir hues that ramp up the claustrophobia, Who You Think I Am plays with mirror images as the lies begin to fracture.
Even extended sequences where we watch Binoche type Facebook missives are oddly compelling, much like Kristen Stewart texting in Personal Shopper.
“I was really worried about how we would make those scenes interesting,” Nebbou says.
“Finally, what we ended up doing was filming it all as naturally as possible, and then we added the drama in the editing.”
Like a technological update on Dangerous Liaisons, we hang on Claire’s every word, holding our breath as her ignorance of Instagram and cool turns of phrase nearly trip her up.
With catfish entrapments hitting the headlines in France too, Nebbou warns we’re all too willing to give ourselves up trustingly online.
“Who knows, perhaps something like this could end well, but it’s far more likely to end very badly.”
Thanks to Binoche, Claire’s trap is wickedly good.