One of the great things about festivals is that it gives you a chance to see films that you may not have the chance to see elsewhere. This is the case with Between Two Worlds which is based on a the non-fiction work, Le Quai de Ouistreham, by French journalist Florence Aubena. Renaming the characters, the film follows Marianne Winckler (Juliette Binoche), a woman who works as a cleaner in order to gain research for her new book which delves into unemployment and low wage work in France. The film explores Winckler’s experiences as she navigates these two different worlds between her comfortable life as a writer and the life she is feigning as a struggling divorcee who needs to re-enter the job market.
The film is directed by Emmanuel Carrère who cowrote the script with Hélène Devynck and the result is a film that utilizes the different locations. Starting in the city centre and working its way out to the port where the cleaners are made to work a job on a ferry, Carrère’s direction shows us the desperation and hopelessness that those on the poverty line are struggling with on a daily basis. From the deeply claustrophobic scenes of the cleaners working in the cabins to the intense interview scenes where Marianne is told an extensive list of demands for a low-wage job, Carrère wants us to feel the struggle that these people feel.
Leading the film is Juliette Binoche as undercover writer, Marianne Winckler who is based on Aubena. We initially don’t know that Marianne is an undercover writer so when it comes out as a revelation at the end of the first act of the film, we begin to see the character in a different light. What makes Binoche such a perfect match for this role is her ability to showcase emotionally complex characters that are also vulnerable. Marianne’s true reasons for working as a cleaner may seem immoral but she is doing it to shine a light on how those who are struggling the most in society are being exploited by working long hours for very little pay in remote locations. Therefore, it could be argued that there is a grey area in Marianne’s actions and it is credit to Binoche’s performance the audience is able to be understanding and remain neutral through the film.
In support, Hélène Lambert absolutely shines as working mother, Chrystèle, who struggles to make ends meet while looking after her three sons. Chrystèle is the first character we see in the film as she storms into the job centre and demands to see an advisor due to a confusion with forms. Where Marianne observes what happens around her, Chrystèle is active and is vocal about what she thinks. Lambert works brilliantly with Binoche, especially when we are exposed to a more vulnerable side of Chrystèle. What makes Lambert’s performance so touching is how complex Chrystèle is as a character. We understand her plight as a mother-of-three who has to work extensive hours while unknowingly being observed and recorded by a woman who claims to be her friend who is actually in a more financially secure situation than her and is benefitting and profiting from her struggles.
Between Two Worlds may have a slow start, but there is much more to this film than meets the eye. Featuring Binoche in a beautifully subtle performance which questions morality and how far someone will go to commit to a project which is then combined with the backdrop of real issues that revolve around unemployment and the job crisis in France.
Between Two Worlds is showing at this year’s London Film Festival!