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Film Of The Week A flying visit to the invisible

MARIA DUARTE recommends a film exploring the punishing world of work endured by poor women in France, and the ethical questions raised by seeking to highlight their plight

Between Two Worlds (12A)
Directed by Emmanuel Carrere

A WELL-KNOWN author goes undercover as a cleaner to investigate the hardships, insecure employment and poverty suffered by France’s invisible female workforce in this insightful drama posing ethical questions.

Based on French investigative journalist Florence Aubena’s book The Night Cleaner, about her real-life experiences on this front, it stars Juliette Binoche as Marianne Winckler, who breaks all ties with her middle-class life and heads to the northern port city of Caen to find employment — and the contents of her next book.

Due to her lack of a car and, being an at-home wife, a gap of 20-plus years in her CV, all she can get is work cleaning offices, a holiday park and finally a cross-Channel ferry — changing 60 beds in 1.5 hours and cleaning 230 rooms per shift at a rate of four minutes each — all of which are gruelling, and for barely the minimum wage.

Marianne is befriended by her fellow workers, with whom she develops a bond — in particular single mother of three Christele (an impressive Helene Lambert), who is struggling to make ends meet despite working all hours herself, and who becomes the focus of the book.

Marianne is rumbled when she is recognised by her jobcentre adviser, who questions her motives; at the end of the day, she can return to her affluent life, whereas her clients cannot.

Marianne insists she just wants “to make the invisible visible” and show everyone what these women are forced to endure.

The film, shot almost like a documentary, brings their world and class struggle into stark relief under co-writer-director Emmanuel Carrere, while Binoche’s understated but naturalistic performance blends seamlessly with that of her outstanding non-professional supporting cast (two of whom featured in Aubena’s book), providing the heart and soul of this drama.

You are just waiting for Marianne to be uncovered and for the feelings of betrayal to set in.

While she can empathise with them and shine a much-needed light on their plight, nationally and globally, she can walk away. As her adviser tells her: “I can’t tell if this is right or wrong.”

In cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.

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