Juliette Binoche acts as if possessed in the French drama “Who You Think I Am.” His character, an academic with a turbulent inner life, seems tense or wildly happy from moment to moment. The emotion, in turn, brightens and darkens his translucent face and changes his body, gait, and gestures. Laughing, crying, expanding, contracting. At times, with the love of a young man, the float floats down the street. Then again, on its own, it might be less loud than how it makes him feel.
Filmmakers can get a lot of distance by filling the screen with Binoche’s face, which is often a movie’s greatest special effect. A beautiful face is forever, but although beauty tends to draw us in, it doesn’t necessarily hold us back and captivate us, it doesn’t make us addicted. But Binoche is an emotional virtuoso with fascinating control over her face. It can soften it, harden it, or crumple it into stained pieces and then effortlessly put it back together whether the seams are rough or not. And even though she’s the type to cry a lot, it’s all the more impressive how these floods, these whirlpools of emotion move under her skin.
You’ll get to know Binoche’s character, Claire, through the modern-era version of the confessional, namely a psychiatrist’s office. He’s a scumbag and a male criminal, or so it seems. What comes out is proving to be more complex, or at least complex. Claire tells her new therapist (Nicole Garcia) that there are two men who undress both perfectly and easily. Claire explains that when the first (Guillaume Gouix) dumped her, she turned to her modern-age version of the devil, namely social media, to spy on her. Boasting a seductive photo and a fake identity, Claire transformed into the much younger Clara and sneaked into her life, and then into the life of her conveniently located lover number 2 (François Civil).
There are twists and turns, some obvious, others mind-boggling. Characters come and go (Charles Berling appears briefly as Claire’s ex-husband), and time flies as Claire chuckles, shines, ruffles her hair and loses direction. From start to finish, there are gestures to larger issues such as desire, beauty, gender, and age. There’s a lot of talking, a little dancing, and a lot more talking, it’s a French movie. In one hilarious, pointed scene, Claire runs in circles talking frantically to a lover in her cell as her confused, exasperated sons await retrieval. Binoche seems to be having a good time, but his character could have benefited from less tears and histrionics.