Between Two Worlds (Ouistrahem) London Film Festival 2021 – Film Review

Straddling the world of professional and non professional actors, Between Two Worlds literally and figuratively immerses itself within a world of differing perspectives. Juliette Binoche as Marianne provides that star quality as the film explores the behind the scenes world of groups of cleaners within Northern France. Based on the real-life reportage of journalist Florence Aubenas, Between Two Worlds’ narrative confronts class and gender divides and thus encourages that social commentary and debate. However, as the carefully constructed veneers are penetrated, there is that question of morality and ethics for Marianne which Between Two Worlds brings to the fore but does not commit itself to providing a response.

A film starring Juliette Binoche always seems appealing and she lends a degree of charm to the role of Marianne.  Binoche’s acting range is impressive as she can easily transport herself into unglamorous, complex roles and as such convincingly performs the role of out of work housewife, Marianne, who despite having a law degree, has had no work experience to date. The film charts her journey as she undertakes low paying work, infiltrates the domestic cleaners’ community, as Marianne harbours a secret, and discovers true friendship along the way.

Between Two Worlds successfully immerses itself within the world of these disparate women, young and old. Each with their own stories to tell. It is a fascinating perspective with insights revealing that working on a ferry is high profile work within the cleaners’ microcosm. The film spotlights these ‘unseen’ workers making those challenging commutes to work unsociable hours. Under Emmanuel Carrerè’s vision, their thankless tasks are illuminated with close ups on the menial tasks undertaken and the speed at which they must be completed – 60 beds to be made up in an hour and a half seems like an impossible feat! The voiceover narrative provided by Marianne clumsily expresses the emotional direction that Carrère is seeking in such key moments where the film simply lacks that substance regarding Marianne’s motivations.

Despite this, at the heart of the film is a tale of female friendships against the odds. Heartwarming in tone, the feel-good focus on the intricacies of the friendships forged is a delight to see. However, despite the hints that Marianne’s secret threatens to undermine the infrastructure of the cleaning group’s microcosm, this aspect is not executed with the complexity and nuance required for the scenario. Carrère’s decision to approach such reveal with a light touch, despite the questionable ethics surrounding the subject matter, seems like a squandered opportunity.

Juliette Binoche and Hélène Lambert in Between Two Worlds
Juliette Binoche and Hélène Lambert in Between Two Worlds

Ultimately, Between Two Worlds with its slice of life, kitchen sink drama unfortunately fails to add anything new to the existing debate surrounding the politics of lowly paid workers. The performances from Binoche and Hélène Lambert, as the fiery Chrystèle, create that captivating sensation of intimate friends within such an established format. Whilst Between Two Worlds may epitomise that slow burning, pensive character study that French cinema symbolises, the use of a literary device within the structure seems jarring and fails to convey some of that unspoken emotion. There are also echoes of How To Be A Good Wife to be seen, also starring Binoche, in some of the choreographed tasks focusing on those cleaning tasks that are often relegated to women. There is therefore often a sense of déjà vu whilst watching the film.

Between Two Worlds is an intriguing watch as it poses that question as to whether social strata can have an impact on interactions when contending with core emotions. In its heavy-handed quest to provide a positive perspective of equality for all, the film inadvertently glosses over key substantial components regarding the support system for precarious jobs. The film attempts to reach a tidy, feel-good conclusion but as it has shown during its runtime, human beings are complex and relationships are messy and therefore its ending fittingly seems to reflect this.

 

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