Who You Think I Am

Juliette Binoche as Claire

One person stalks another person online in Who You Think I Am (Celle Que Vous Croyez). If it’s not quite as creepy as you might expect, it’s not quite as emotionally engaging as it might be either, which is deliberate. We’re held at arm’s length, while co-writer/director Safy Nebbou gets busy with the mechanics of a plot that reveals all towards the end, and then reveals all one more time.

The plot seems quite straightforward. Claire (Juliette Binoche, great as ever) is a teacher of French literature who strikes up a relationship with much younger man Alex, a friend of an ex lover, on a social network we might as well call Facebook, using the fictitious identity of a much younger woman. She’s maybe 50, he’s about 25 and devastatingly attractive (he’s played by the ludicrously handsome François Civil). A classic catfishing operation develops – she praises his photography, he responds with a “well, thanks…”, before things move on through some sharing of personal details and eventually arrive at profile pictures (she uses one of her pretty niece) and phone calls, Claire leading Alex further into a world of shared intimacy with her voice pitched high and using hastily learned 21st century argot.

Is Claire a cougar or is problematising an older woman/younger man relationship just a sexist way of looking at the world? In a classic bit of French-movie exposition, the concept is hashed out a dinner party over glasses of wine and laughter – what do you call the male equivalent of a cougar, asks one guest. “A man,” someone else responds drily.

And in another bit of classic French-movie exposition, it turns out that the book the woman is teaching her students is Les Liaisons Dangeureuses, a novel full of people pretending to be something they’re not. The title is warning enough but Claire’s job and her age situate her as someone from a different century. Alex is a 21st-century guy comfortable in the world of social media; Claire is a 20th-century girl, and one who looks backwards at that.

François Civil as Alex
François Civil as Alex


We don’t judge Claire too harshly because it’s obvious she’s a woman in trouble. Who You Think I Am carefully situates her in a frame – Claire confessing all to her shrink (Nicole Garcia), and revealing how things ultimately ran away with her and she got in too deep. She’s the victim here is the idea, a lamb led to the slaughter in the abattoir of online relationships. “Do you Insta?” asks Alex at one point. Claire has to google it.

The (dry) joke is that Alex falls for her because she’s not like the other young women he comes across online, being wise and interested in serious things etc. And she falls for him because he’s hot and young and she used to be hot and young too, and she wants that back, and everything that being hot and young gave her access to.

Nebbou shows us that Claire’s fascination with this man does have a rejuvenating effect on her. At parties Claire downs shots and dances wildly. In a scene that’s erotic rather than seedy, Alex brings Claire to a phone-sex orgasm. And Nebbou does it all with a camera that seems to have enabled its Instagram filter setting (I know there’s no such thing). Images are crisp and seem cleaned up, while the editing is sharp and quick. This has the effect of driving the story forward rather than leaving it to sit in the potential murkiness of what’s going on. Ibrahim Maalouf’s soundtrack of sweetly tinkling piano and strings also steers us away from the dark side.

Ultimately, Alex barely figures. He’s an avatar of hotness and youth. This is a story about a woman who, though an academic, has perhaps traded more on her looks than she might like to admit, and is now finding that the curtain has come down on that particular show. In a couple of brief scenes, when Claire and Alex are meant to finally meet in the flesh, he’s there and she’s there but he cannot see her, even though she’s right in front of him. The invisibility of women over 50.

Who You Think I Am offers two alternate endings, one real and tragic, the other happier though also ultimately doomed. The narrative loose ends are all tied up but in doing so the film reveals that it’s been playing the same game with us that Claire has been playing with Alex. It makes for an ending that’s satisfying logically if not entirely emotionally. Emotional reaction – just borrow someone else’s, hey?





Who You Think I Am – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Cosmopolis

Robert Pattinson gets his haircut in Cosmopolis

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

17 September

 

 

Occupy Wall Street starts, 2011

 

On this day in 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement, unable to set up its protest against US financial institutions in its original two preferred locations, took over Zuccotti Park, New York. With its rallying cry “We are the 99 per cent,” it made reference to the growing disparity in income distribution in the US (back more or less to its levels around the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, in spite of more than 80 years of relative prosperity) and set off a wave of similar protests all over the world. Though apparently spontaneous, it was organised by the PR agency Workhouse on behalf of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist “global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.” An aim they achieved. By the time the police closed Zuccotti Park on 11 November 2011, the largely peaceful protest had made its point and put income distribution back on the political agenda, to some degree at least. What gave the movement its political heft was the make-up of the protesters. Largely well educated, employed people earning good salaries, a third of them over 35 years of age, the statistic that must have caused most consternation back at the parties’ HQs is that 70 per cent of them identified with none of the political brand leaders.

 

Cosmopolis (2012, dir: David Cronenberg)

Yes, the thought of Robert Pattinson in the back of a limo, droning on for hours isn’t everyone’s idea of a great film. But it’s directed by David Cronenberg, master of a certain sort of horror (not Twilight style horror, admittedly) who uses Pattinson’s pallour and his reserve to good effect, as the super-entitled billionaire kid floating round a nameless metropolis (it’s Toronto) while outside unrest stalks the streets. It’s a Keanu role – eerie, blank – in a film adapted from Don DeLillo’s novel, a meditation on how the elite have become divorced from the rest of us. As troubled cyber-entrepreneur Eric Packer, Pattinson gets to talk in epigrams, non sequiturs, have sex with a succession of hot women, play with guns here and there. And as Packer heads off to get the haircut that the whole film hangs on we’re treated to a melding of DeLillo’s forensic cool with the weird of Cronenberg, the result an absurdist existential Camus-like examination of a distracted mind in the middle of a crisis. Give it a while to get going – the affectless style, Pattinson’s deliberately dead-eyed performance, the focus on the inside of a car almost to the exclusion of everything else, all the “just what the hell is going on?” questions it is bound to raise, they do all take a while to process. After that, though, it’s a gripping slide, effortless, graceful, towards the abyss.

 

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Intense cameos from the likes of Juliette Binoche, Mathieu Amalric
  • Watch Pattinson, then imagine Colin Farrell, its original lead, doing it
  • Pattinson’s character is the “one per cent” that Occupy Wall Street allude to
  • DeLillo’s verdit – “I am impressed… It is as uncompromising as it can possibly be”

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Cosmopolis – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Hidden aka Caché

cache

 

 

Everyone loves a form/content double whammy, when a film’s story and its method of telling correspond. It’s why Memento succeeds so well, for example, a tale about an amnesiac told in partial and unreliable flashback. How much craftier is Michael Haneke’s psychological thriller Hidden. Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and Anne (Juliette Binoche) are media professionals, members of the Parisian chattering classes, liberal right down in their DNA. What could people of such good intent have to do with the rising tide of Islamism, anti-westernism, terrorism? Why are they being blackmailed by an increasingly incriminating series of videotapes? Are they guilty of something, or innocent, as the film seems to proclaim? Haneke’s double whammy is to tell this story both from the point of view of the spooked couple and through the replaying of the videotapes they’ve been sent. Indeed we’re often not sure which point of view we’re seeing events from – is it the dispassionate camera telling us the story from Georges and Anne’s point of view, or is it the politicised camera within the film, the one shooting the videotapes? And it’s on this nub that this brilliant film turns. You could see it as a comment on fictionalised reality, though it is only tangentially that. Or as a more political film which, through Haneke’s dislocating device, dissolves the certainties of fiction and invites the question – are we, Western audiences, no matter how liberal, anti-war, pro-diversity, because we benefit from them, complicit in political actions taken in our name?

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Hidden – at Amazon