Who You Think I Am: Catfishing French Style

Who You Think I Am (2019) is a French film directed by Safy Nebbou and starring Juliette Binoche, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The simple description of Who You Think I Am is that it’s a modern internet tale of catfishing. Binoche plays Claire, a professor in her 50s who takes on a new identity on social media, pretending to be much younger and romancing a young man. Claire already has a much younger boyfriend Ludovic (Guillaume Gouix) at the start of Who You Think I Am. However, he is extremely casual about their relationship and doesn’t even return her messages. This motivates her to create a fake profile. Claire isn’t simply trolling social media randomly. She targets Ludovic’s roommate Alex (Fran├žois Civil) and the two quickly begin chatting and talking on the phone. Claire is doing full-on catfishing here as she uses a photo of a young woman and tells Alex that she’s 24.

The film is told largely in flashbacks as Claire recounts (not always reliably, as it turns out) her actions to her therapist Dr. Bormans (Nicole Garcia). Anyone who has seen the Catfish movie or TV show heard about (or perhaps even experienced) online deception knows that the biggest red flag is when the other person can never meet in person for complicated reasons. Alex does become frustrated and even suspicious as Claire (calling herself Clara) is never able to meet. She finally agrees to a meeting but only watches Alex from a distance; he, of course, doesn’t recognize her as he’s going by a fake photo. She then makes up a fake excuse, saying she lives with someone.

Who You Think I Am has several twists that I won’t reveal. Unlike the contrived twists that often occur in mysteries and thrillers, where the whole point is to fool the audience, the twists in this psychological drama are actually plausible. In any case, the film is more of a character study than a commentary on contemporary social media or even catfishing. Juliette Binoche, who has been an iconic presence in French cinema since the 1980s, does a brilliant job portraying a woman who is, at once, troubled, confused, and yet confident enough to pull off a grand deception.

Later in the film, things get a bit confusing as scenes not only move back and forth in time but also include bits of Claire’s imagination. Yet, for a character who is constructing an imaginary identity, it’s actually fitting that she moves seamlessly between fact and fantasy.

If this topic was covered in a typical American film, it would be either a cringe rom-com or a suspense thriller where someone was an obsessed stalker and at least one brutal murder. Fortunately, Who You Think I Am is a more complex and nuanced look at modern relationships as influenced by social media culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.