Reviewed by Jonathan Berk
Between Two Worlds marks Emmanuel Carrère’s return to directing for the first time since The Moustache. The film is adapted from Florence Aubenas’s bestselling non-fiction work Le Quai de Ouistreham (The Night Cleaner) and has been a long-time passion project for its star, Juliette Binoche. That passion is visible in every frame of the film, as the characters and their relationships develop to their emotional conclusion.
Marianne Winckler (Binoche) is actively looking for work in a small city in Northern France. Job options are limited, but she finally lands a few cleaning jobs with various companies. The catch is that Marianne is actually a famed author who has gone undercover to investigate the exploitation of the working class in this region. At first, it is all clinical, but as Marianne begins to feel close connections to the women she works with, she also struggles with her deception, despite it being for the greater good.
Binoche is in top form, easily playing the internal struggle that Marianne is going through. There is a longing for the friendships she is developing to not go away. While Marianne is the protagonist, the film instead opens with a tracking shot of a character who will become significant eventually. Played expertly by newcomer Hélène Lambert, this worker immediately makes an impact demanding to speak about a paperwork error while Marianne idly watches. She shows up at a few jobs Marianne takes, and the two begin to develop a friendship. It is the heart of the film, and the chemistry between the two is undeniable. Binoche’s performance allows the audience to feel the guilt of her lies, but she believes her book will help bring awareness to the struggles the women she works with face.
Carrère’s film brings a real sense of the challenges women face. The first time Marianne is brought in to clean, the ferry feels undeniably tense. There is a ticking clock, since each room must be thoroughly cleaned, beds made, toilets scrubbed, and trash changed in under four minutes. Marianne is clearly out of her depth, and the audience can feel her anxiety. The other jobs had been challenging, but the extreme nature of the ferry gig shows how underpaid and disrespected the cleaning crews are. Yet, the surrogate family element of the team is not lost, and the relationships make even the smallest role feel important.
Between Two Worlds feels undeniably sincere in its messaging. No one who works as hard as the characters should struggle financially. The story shines a light on the faces of those often overlooked by society. Of course, it’s in large part the tremendous — yet subtle — performances by the leads that really sell the idea. While there is an ethical debate about the choice the main character makes, it does feel that, in this case, the ends justify the means. Hopefully, the film will make people aware of the plight of the workers, and maybe a change will follow.
Between Two Worlds is out in theaters on August 11.