“In my dreams people unmask me,” says Margot (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a novice actress caught in a professional love triangle. She confesses this in her first meeting with an attentive Sibyl (Virginie Efira), a psychologist on her way out of the profession to write a novel. Margot is afraid of being seen for the broken person she believes she is, as opposed to the public persona she’s tried so diligently to confect. Exarchopoulos operates in heightened, raw distress for most of the running time, drowning Margot in tears of desperation and rage.
Ethics be dammed, Sibyl surreptitiously records their sessions to lift Margot’s real-life turmoil from her first major production and enliven her manuscript with the detailed, almost literary descriptions of the affair she’s having with her famous co-star Igor (Gaspard Ulliel), who’s in turn dating the movie’s director Mika (Sandra Hüller). Note the stellar ensemble cast featuring more than a handful of Europe’s most gifted thespians including Paul Hamy as Sibyl’s neglected husband Etienne.
A recovering alcoholic with plenty of baggage, Sibyl has shifted her addictive tendencies to the creative process. She’s found an exhilarating, even perverse sense of control in molding Margot’s sorrow for personal gain. It’s in her book’s best interest to take what the ingénue says at face value, rather than question the validity of the melodrama she depicts. Soon, the therapy sessions transcend the limits of patient-mental health professional boundaries when Margot asks for Sibyl’s advise on whether or not to have an abortion.
There’s a fascinating mutual investment in their odd friendship that doesn’t necessarily rely on a power imbalance. Instead of one taking advantage of the other, Margot and Sibyl seem to have an unspoken understanding that they are both embodying what the other needs at this point in their tumultuous existences.
While Exarchopoulos’ part requires consistency to convey her perpetual misery, Efira layers facets upon facets of Sibyl from one sequence to the next. Her fragmented personality as a concerned mother, an unscrupulous artist, an ardent lover, or a drunk staggering through a party exemplifies the multi-verse inside us all depending on our audience. It’s riveting to witness Efira transition from levelheaded to disturbed, passing through several frenzied modulations.