Emmanuel Carrère is predominantly known as a non-fiction author but has always dabbled in cinema and television, directing his debut The Moustache in 2005 which was based upon his own novel. For his sophomore effort, he adapts autobiographical essay Le Quai de Ouistreham by journalist Florence Aubenas as drama Between Two Worlds.
The film follows French writer Marianne Winckler (Juliette Binoche) as she leaves her comfortable Parisian life behind for a social experiment, taking a minimum-wage cleaning job as research for her next book. Keen to see the world through a working-class perspective, she befriends hardworking and hard-up colleagues Chrystèle (Hélène Lambert) and Louise (Louise Pociecka), secretly integrating herself into the camaraderie of the workforce.
Opting for a no-frills style of filmmaking, Carrère’s lens has a cinéma-vérité, documentarian authenticity. This works very well with the social-realist narrative, reminiscent of the work of the Dardenne brothers or perhaps even more obviously Ken Loach, who also tackled the gig economy with his most recent cinematic indictment of modern society. This piece is less kitchen-sink drama and more toilet-urinal drama, as we see Marianne scrubbing porcelain amongst her peers whilst keeping the true circumstances of her situation under wraps. It’s clever that the only time the direction strays from this naturalness to give a more experimental artistic flourish with a transition is in the brief glimpse we get of Marianne’s own personal life. Unfortunately, the outcome becomes pretty predictable as the plot thickens and starts to feel very exploitative of the conditions it sheds light on; other dramas of this ilk work best when they allow audiences to empathise with the central characters, but having a fraudulent protagonist becomes problematic.
With an internal monologue to give insight into her thought process, Juliette Binoche takes on an internalised role within a role. Marianne’s tone-deaf deceitfulness makes her difficult to completely root for, but there’s just enough humanity in the performance to make her likeable. She shares the Hélène Lambert who gives a great supporting turn as Chrystèle in what is remarkably her screen debut. A strong opening scene in a job centre is brilliantly acted in particular, not dissimilar to the aforementioned Loach’s I, Daniel Blake in the frustration it can invoke
Between Two Worlds is a well-made and very well-acted commentary on the issues working-class people can come up against, made even more timely by the cost-of-living crisis we are currently experiencing. However, due to the iffy optics of its central character, the film leans too heavily on the side of ‘poverty porn’, lacking the emotional gut-punch you would expect from this type of tale.