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Juliette Binoche delivers a sultry, complicated turn as a woman hiding behind a virtual alter ego in this haunting French psychodrama. Director and co-writer Safy Nebbou’s tale, based on Camille Laurens’ 2016 novel, opens with 50-something French literature lecturer Claire Millaud (Binoche) introducing herself to new psychologist Catherine (Nicole Garcia). Although initially reticent in her company, it doesn’t take long for the divorced mother-of-two to launch into her sordid backstory.
After a messy breakup with her much younger boyfriend Ludo, and upset at his sudden disappearance, Claire decides to create a new, younger persona online, with the aim of reconnecting via Ludo’s best friend Alex (François Civil). Posing as 24-year-old fashion intern Clara Antunes, Claire’s online banter and photogenic looks soon have Alex hooked and desperate to meet her in real life. But something about Claire’s story – and where she got Clara’s image from – doesn’t quite ring true.
While very much a reflection of modern-day mores (Claire describes social media as both “a shipwreck and a life raft” for her), there’s also a timeless aspect to what unfolds, mirrored in Claire’s choice of reading material for her latest batch of students – Les Liaisons dangereuses. Binoche, superb as ever, grounds the film’s riveting, sometimes surprising narrative turns with a performance to rival Isabelle Huppert’s icy music conservatory professor in The Piano Teacher and Charlotte Rampling’s repressed crime novelist in Swimming Pool. — James Croot