Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche stars in Who You Think I Am, now playing in selected theaters and coming to more starting September 17. The film is a psychological thriller adapted by Safy Nebbou and Julie Peyr from Camille Laurens’ best-selling novel. Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) portrays university professor Claire Millaud, a recently divorced and single mom. Frustrated with her new relationship with a much younger man, she creates a fake Facebook profile under the name “Clara,” pretending to be a 24-year-old woman. Circumstances begin to spiral out of control as Claire, in the guise of Clara, embarks on an online relationship.
I spoke with Binoche to find out more about her experience working on the film and what audiences can take away from the story.
What was it like meeting Camille Laurens, the author of the original book?
Well, she was like a cipher to me. Because you wonder, how can this woman have put those four different characters together: the one in therapy, the one in the novel and short story, the young Clara, and Claire the university teacher? Of course, I wanted to ask her how it came about. I got an answer from her and I understood. It was kind of a secret, so I’m not able to really tell you what it was all about. Just know that it came from a deep experience that she went through. The words that she wrote on this book resonate as a sort of a truthful experience.
Safy Nebbou, the director, had been hacked a few years ago by an older woman pretending she was 25. He really wanted to make this film because of the experience he had. Camille Laurens gave him the rights for this book. Several directors wanted to direct this film. That’s the way it came about.
After making the film, did you rethink anything about your social media presence?
Not really because this one is [with] Facebook. I don’t have Facebook. Instagram is different, I think. I sometimes use Instagram, but I don’t think you can do a parallel with what’s happening in the film.
What’s the most challenging aspect of portraying Claire with her isolation and the personal struggles she’s going through?
There is a transformation throughout the film. We were shooting—not in order—it was all mixed. To not lose track of the journey inside was challenging: [to be] truthful and not ridiculous and not too pushy in a stereotyped way. The transformation of getting into the Clara character becomes more and more real. Always to be in touch with something intimate in my life that feels real [in order] to play the character really was the challenge.
We know that Claire is a literature professor. There are a lot of great quotes from different authors. Were there any authors you particularly liked mentioning in the film?
I’m a fan of Marguerite Duras. I recorded one of her books, The Lover, L’Amant. I did the audiobook a year ago. Duras for me is really an immense author.
I love the scenes with the two sons (played by Jules Houplain and Jules Gauzelin). What was it like to work with them?
Wonderful. The younger boy is such a natural the way he is. He comes from a smart background. The mother is following this son who wants to act in life. I had a lot of pleasure witnessing his passion in acting. The older one touched me because he is in a family situation that is not that easy. He’s trying to make a living with acting. It’s rough when you start as an actor. I felt for both of them in different ways.
I also really liked the scenes between your character and Nicole Garcia’s. Have you worked together before?
No. Nicole is actually a director. She started as an actress and now she directs films. Once in a while, she plays in films, but very rarely. She plays in the theater as well. It’s true that we felt like doing a film together one day.
What was really interesting to you about your scenes together?
What’s interesting is, you know, therapy is supposed to be a place where you can talk about anything. You speak out the truth of your heart and mind. The thing is, my character in this situation is resisting the truth. It’s so painful for her to reveal it—she is resisting. The therapist doesn’t know it, but she feels it. It’s the resistance of the therapist that really makes my character open up and transit[ion] into an evolution. [Claire’s] not “locked” after all this confrontation, so much that the therapist goes too far, into a personal situation where [the therapist] goes and travels to see the first boyfriend that left [Claire] at the beginning of the film.
Also, the fact that the therapist is older and my character—it’s not that she can’t face being older—it is that she cannot face being abandoned. That’s different. I think that is one of the key themes in life around 50 years old. During that period, there is a shift there that is not easy to take because in my opinion, you are changing a little bit in values. You’re changing because you’re not as young as before. You are facing during that time wounds that are deep down like in childhood. You’ve got to let go of certain things. That’s how I see it.
Kind of related to that, what do you think society needs to take note of and address more regarding people who have difficulties after divorces or bad breakups? I would say some of Claire’s spiraling was because people didn’t notice she needed help.
There are things society cannot take care of. I think reading and art help us try to understand what’s going on and to overcome some big difficulties. I hope this film can help people from that age, but also younger so they know they can understand life is a journey. It’s not because you are getting older and then suddenly everything is finished. You have different layers in life. You pass a certain age and there’s another [layer] that is coming to you that is new. It’s kind of joyful.[But] that’s not what society is telling you at all. Magazines or ads on TV or films [say] you always have to be young to be happy. It’s not true at all. There are certain demands that life requires in terms of keeping yourself alive and keeping yourself new: not [in] looking young but renewing yourself through passion, what you love doing, through another thing you’ll discover, and not identifying with a number or an age. I think that’s really important to understand.
If you really look around and you see people who are good with their age, they are happy. Even some people say that they’re happier than they were when they were in their 20s. That is not what society is doing because they want to sell the cream products, the jeans, and whatever they want to sell. Don’t get trapped into that dream. It’s fictional and not real. This film is a flag to waking you up.