Local cinemas this week

Movie of the week: Who You Think I Am

“On the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” So goes that old well-known New Yorker cartoon showing two conniving canines at the keyboard. Though to even think of that when Juliette Binoche is doing the typing is hugely inappropriate if not offensive. At 55 she’s one of the most luminously beautiful women in the cinematic universe, yet curiously, keeps being cast in French films about the dissatisfactions of women of a certain age becoming “invisible” and losing their sex appeal (Clouds of Sils Maria, Let the Sunshine In). And Safy Nebbou’s film is curious too, though in a different and enormously satisfying way.

The film is almost thriller-like in its structure and tone, and no time is wasted before we’re embroiled in a mystifying sequence of events. Binoche plays Claire, a vibrant 50ish academic who enjoys an active sex-life with a younger architect Ludo (Guillaume Gouix). She’s divorced, her long-time husband has dumped her for a much younger model a few years back, and after Ludo doesn’t answer her calls, she feels stung again. She decides to stalk him on Facebook and creates the imaginary personae of 24-year-old, fashion intern called “Clara” to do so. But a work colleague of Ludo, an attractive 20-something budding photographer called Alex (Francois Civil) takes the bait, and “Clara” impulsively plays him along. Soon enough their online flirtation evolves into an intimate relationship which includes telephone sex.

Alex, who clearly hasn’t heard about “catfishing”, is smitten with the sensuous image of the pouty young beauty Claire has posted, and he loves her voice too. Claire plunges in like a giddy schoolgirl, flattered by the attention and enjoying the deception, though clearly it’s unhinging her. Naturally Alex wants to meet, and the complications of the affair begin to consume her totally. The story is being told by Claire (quite unreliably, we’re never quite sure what to believe) in flashback in sessions with an empathetic but cagey psychiatrist (Nicole Garcia). Clearly something terrible has happened too, and her therapist, like us, is puzzled why someone so attractive would ever need do this. Even with her glasses on (especially with her glasses!) Claire is a beauty, and would have no trouble at all in landing any age-appropriate guy she wanted.

Eventually after some mischievous narrative jumps, all is revealed. Her motives make sense, kind of… and so does the twisty plot provided you’re willing to believe that in the age of FaceTime, the relationship with Alex could last so long. Or that when Claire is told some incredible news, she doesn’t think to Google. There’s even an inscrutable but tantalising ending, which may well be a bridge too far for some. It was for me. Binoche is superb, watching her jump right in nail every role she takes on no matter how “tricky” (and this one certainly is) is always a delight. But her last scene just had me scratching my head. “Nah, hang about… that couldn’t happen… er, could it?”  MA15+ from Aug 1. Inner west cinemas include Palace Norton St and Central ★★★★

Highly commended: Ophelia

No one would want to see a play or movie about yet another entitled, rich, privileged white male, would they… Certainly not one prone to existential self-pity and worrying bouts of insanity. Sure, that’s the way Shakespeare wrote Hamlet all those years ago, but why not remake it with a strong female hero instead? That at least would be more in tune with our times, and in choosing to so with Ophelia, the Prince’s usually overlooked lover, Australian director Claire McCarthy (The Waiting City) and writer Semi Chellas have made an inspired choice. She’s beautiful, she’s misunderstood, and what’s more, a victim too (at least in the Bard’s version) – coming to a sticky end because of stupid men and their infernal egotistical power plays. And who better to overcome the centuries of patriarchal oppression in English classical-lit than someone better known for her feisty courage and an ability of wield a lightsaber…

This UK based production, which stars Star WarsDaisy Ridley, is from a YA novel by Lisa Kein. It’s a gorgeous looking film, filled with colour and texture and swoon-inducing big set pieces. Clive Owen schemes diabolically and steals every scene he’s in as Uncle Claudius, murderer of Hamlet’s father and secret lover of the Queen (Naomi Watts, as gracious and ageless as ever). Hamlet himself (George MacKay) is almost a bit player, absent for great chunks of the action. He looks a bit weedy anyway (what did Ophelia see in him?) When he does turn up, all those big “look-at-me” scenes Shakespeare wrote for him have been cut too – there’s no time for any “to be or not to be” angsty stuff in this taut script, or any too tricky-to-understand Shakespearean prose. All the action centres around our girl – as it always should have been!

Ophelia is a Cinderella-style outcast in the Queen’s court at first, teased by the stuck-up ladies-in-waiting because of her lowly background, and even sexually threatened by Claudius’ surly henchmen. But she is the Queen’s favourite, so at the very epicentre of power. She sees the destructive machinations going on about her and by the last act, the narrative focus has shifted cleverly, taking huge liberties with Shakespeare’s plot. She becomes the initiator of events rather than just their passive tragic victim. This isn’t so much a reinvention of the classic work, more a sideways look at an all too familiar story. Clearly it isn’t for purists, English teachers or those who prefer their Shakespeare straight, though its intended young audience may well-find the cheeky Romeo+Juliet-style revisionism both intriguing and attractive. It’s certainly a bright and Bardly entertaining. Go girl! M from Aug 1. Local  cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown ★★★★

Also showing:

Defend, Conserve, Protect has been playing at on-demand screenings, and now has daily sessions at Dendy Newtown this week. Stephen Amis’s film, which is less a doco, more a stirring heartfelt fund-raiser for the Sea Shepherd whale rescue mission, does contain some dramatic new footage of the confrontations 28-year-old Captain Peter Hammarstedt had with Japanese whalers in 2012 at the helm of the Bob Barker. That’s some time ago, and the film is further dated (and sadly, devalued) by the inclusion of Bob Brown (above left), who may have moved on from saving the whales… The former Greens leader’s latest campaign is to warn us of the unsightly dangers of wind farms in Tasmania. Got it, Bob. Defending, conserving and protecting our planet with renewable energy is all very well, but not in my backyard, please. PG ★★1/2

Reviews – Russell Edwards