wed 24/07/2024

Between Two Worlds review - Juliette Binoche, maid in France | reviews, news & interviews

Between Two Worlds review - Juliette Binoche, maid in France

Between Two Worlds review - Juliette Binoche, maid in France

Juliette Binoche determinedly takes on the gig economy

Undercover cleaner: Juliette Binoche© Christine Tamalet

For die-hard Juliette Binoche fans – don’t cross us, we get angry – Between Two Worlds is heaven. The French star hardly ever leaves the screen during the film’s 106 minutes. It was her unwavering detemination that ensured the film came to be made in the first place. 

Binoche’s early attempts to bring to the screen Florence Aubenas’s best-selling 2010 book Le Quai de Ouistreham (published in English as The Night Cleaner) met with major resistance from the journalist. But Binoche persisted, as she does, and Aubenas eventually agreed it could be made on the condition that the author-filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère write and direct the movie. Then, it has been claimed, it was the turn of Carrère’s agent and publisher to start dragging their feet. In the end, it took Binoche most of a decade to realise the project.

A campaigning journalist at Le Nouvel Observateur, Aubenas deliberately went off-radar in 2009. She hired student digs in Caen and started working under cover in the zero-hours gig economy in order to write a book about it, following the models of Günter Wallraff in Germany in the 1980s and Barbara Ehrenreich in the US in the early 2000s.

Whereas Aubenas’s book is factual, Between Two Worlds is a free fictional adaptation of it. Aubenas becomes Marianne Winckler, whom Binoche has described as “a kind of hybrid creation, a cross between Florence and me". In the main plotline, Marianne doesn’t just live a lie with the people in general around her in Caen, she builds a very close friendship with another woman, Christèle, played by Hélène Lambert. It's a relationship that's clearly never going to remain intact once the truth about Marianne inevitably emerges. (Pictured below: Lambert, left, and Binoche)

Christèle is a major role, but Lambert is not a trained actor. We first encounter her bludgeoning her way to get dealt with properly in an employment exchange. The closeness between the two women is carefully drawn, always with underlying tension as Winckler knowingly casts deceit and false narratives into a friendship that needs to feel genuine, at least on one side. Lambert gives a powerful performance for a non-actor.

Another character whom Marianne gets close to is Marilou (Léa Carne), She is younger than the other two women, and is also performing her first ever film role; she gives another strong performance. Marilou talks about her youthful dreams of escaping and forgetting. That piles yet more guilt onto Marianne.

Naturally, it is Binoche's performance as Marianne and the way the character evolves that holds our attention. Whereas at the beginning, Marianne dutifully parrots the platitudes she is told employers want to hear  full marks for “Why cleaning? Because it’s always been my passion”, for example  she finds herself increasingly conflicted. As the film progresses, we find her either on the verge of tears, or about to give the game away and confide in the women she has befriended.

The cinematography (by veteran Patrick Blossier) and the sets (by Julia Lemaire) are superb, with a wonderful sensitivity to the geometric shapes of buildings. The cross-channel ferry, a major source of work for the motley work-seekers of Caen, becomes a key presence in the film. As one character remarks, it is always present in the minds of these hourly-paid workers: “The ferry is waiting for you with its impossible shift patterns…”

The film's weakness is its perfunctory ending, which jolts through three disjointed scenes. Outcomes in the storyline are left unexplained in what feels like a rush to have the film wrapped up before the titles roll.

Binoche is in the habit of casting herself into uncomfortable situations, as both an act of will and as a matter of course. The overlay of the real situation on which the book is based and the creation of a different kind of emotional pull in the fictional (yet fact-based) context of Between Two Worlds is not always comfortable, and sometimes leaves the feeling that, perhaps, with a less complicated genesis, a stronger film might have emerged.

In the meantime, Between Two Worlds gives us something unexpected to reflect upon and process through the brain: the sight of one of the great cinema stars of our time cleaning an awful lot of toilets. 


Perhaps, with a less complicated genesis, a stronger film might have emerged


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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