This extraordinary collaboration between Juliette Binoche and writer and sometime director Emmanuel Carrère is based on a book in which a French journalist gets her hands dirty. In Le Quai de Ouistreham, Florence Aubenas explores the world of insecure employment, and takes a series of jobs as a “maintenance agent” aka a cleaning lady, which brings her face to face with rude bosses, back-breaking schedules and a hideous variety of unflushed loos.
With Aubenas’ blessing, Binoche, Carrère and a cast of non-professionals have taken liberties with the text. The result is a visually hypnotic, laugh-out-loud funny and emotionally devastating portrait of a privileged double-agent, whose mission is far from straightforward. If you love middle-class saviours, this movie will make you retch.
Best-selling Parisian writer Marianne Winckler (Binoche) meets all sorts of bright and generous people during her time in Caen, but it’s her relationship with stroppy single-mum and ferry-worker Christele (Hélène Lambert) that dominates the plot.
Marianne’s cover story is that she was betrayed by her rat-fink of a husband; after a comfortable life as a housewife, she’s now having to fend for herself. Christele knows there’s something fishy about that narrative and, between smiles, her face hardens like granite. The two women constantly size each other up and Christele, at one point, seems on the point of discovering the truth. That moment is as tense as anything in Judas and the Black Messiah, while the revelations that follow are as moving as anything in Nomadland.
I confess, I spent most of the film’s second half sobbing.
A career-best, vanity-free performance from Binoche obviously deserves prizes; Lambert must get something, too. It’s impossible to imagine Between Two Worlds without her. Émily Madeleine, as leggy blonde Justine, the unofficial queen of the ferry cleaners, will also blow your mind, though every single member of the cast finds a way to do something special (Évelyne Porée, as initially sharp-tongued manager, Nadege, spills over with surprises).
This is a passion project for Binoche, who spent years trying to persuade Aubenas to hand over the rights to the book. Aubenas finally agreed, but only if Carrère was on board (it was he who chose to use non-professionals). Carrère, famously, is fascinated by how humans construct reality. The reality created by cast and crew ultimately feels like a 21st century take on all the best Ken Loach movies you’ve ever seen.
Between Two Worlds: the title’s generic and forgettable. The movie itself is anything but.