Between Two Worlds: investigating class and the morals of telling the stories of others

Opening at Showroom Cinema on Friday 27 May, Between Two Worlds is a gripping film that investigates the issue of rising precarity for working women during the economic crisis in France. Based in the northern port city of Caen, and focusing on a period of nearly six months, the film is loosely based on the internationally bestselling book The Night Cleaner, by Florence Aubenas (Le Quai de Ouistreham, 2011).

In Between Two Worlds we followMarianne (Juliette Binoche): a fictionalised version of investigative journalist Florence Aubenas. Without revealing her identity, Marianne takes on several thankless jobs, including cleaner of a cross-Channel ferry, and documents her day-to-day life. As her work progresses, Marianne questions the morality of her decision to write on her and her peers' experiences of financial instability, knowing that she can return to an easier life in Paris when she is done. Director Emmanuel Carrère pays a great deal of attention to this aspect of the story. He leads us to ask: is it possible for an artist, however well-meaning, to truly shine a light on the lives of those in poverty when they are themselves insulated by privilege? And where, exactly, is the line between inspiration and exploitation?  

Through her investigation in France, Aubenas found that working class women were often stuck in dead end jobs and were not receiving the guidance they needed to help them find a way out. These women instead faced an endless exploitative cycle of unpaid trial periods, tokenised portion hours and humiliating rejections for low paid and low skilled work.  

This job insecurity is reflected in Between Two Worlds as Marianne experiences financial instability and social invisibility first-hand.Although Marianne is the film’s lead, her presence is smartly muted, allowing us time and space to discover the world as she does, and providing room for the complexity in considering the ethics of her work to be properly addressed. 

The documentary-style cinematography delivers gritty naturalism; the expected approach for films about economic inequality. This film ticks plenty of social-realist boxes. But there’s a satisfying added depth born out of the persuasively fleshed-out performances and the focus on female friendship. We are witness to the strong bonds shared by these behind-the-scenes working women, and we come to see them as multidimensional people. A prime example is Christiéle, a single mother-of-three played by first-time actress Hélène Lambert. She has a fiery tenacity and soon becomes Marianne’s closest friend.  

Between Two Worlds is an especially honest film: a story based on real lives, real working conditions and the morality of writing about others’ harsh reality from the safety of your own. 

Opening at the Showroom on Friday 27th May. Tickets are now on sale. 

This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 26  May 2022


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