Quick, name the movie: A middle-aged actress hits the road, carrying on her shoulders an understated docurealist drama about present-day financial precarity, while surrounded by non-professional actors playing versions of themselves.
If you answered “Nomadland,” well, that was the intent. If you answered “Between Two Worlds,” congratulations twice over, because you must have just left the film’s premiere, where it opened the Director’s Fortnight sidebar at the Cannes Film Festival.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Cannes pic — which stars Juliette Binoche and nary another actor you’ve ever heard of — does in many ways make for an interesting companion piece to Chloé Zhao’s recent Oscar winner. Though both films share superficial similarities, “Between Two World” comes at the subject from a wholly different angle, teasing at questions of class and economics that weren’t as present in “Nomadland.”
Mind you, it’s wholly accidental that one film shines a light on another one’s blind spots. “Between Two Worlds” is rather faithfully adapted from the 2010 non-fiction bestseller “The Night Cleaner,” in which a member of France’s cultural elite flees Paris and hides her background to spend a year living and working among the country’s more downwardly mobile.
The film casts Binoche as an acclaimed author made ever more aware of her privileged perch as she tries to experience the gig economy firsthand from a working-class Normandy town. Co-written and directed by Emmanuel Carrere – himself an acclaimed novelist and member of Paris’ literary elite – “Between Two Worlds” is highly self-aware, at some points simply playing up the odd dissonance of seeing as glamorous a figure as Juliette Binoche scrubbing toilets, and at other points making more caustic commentary on the impossible task the book and adaptation set out to accomplish.
Carrere’s film twists around a simple question with no easy answer: How can members of one social stratum – specifically one with the cultural and financial capital to get books published and films made – hope to observe and depict those with lesser means without coming off as cultural tourists at best and exploitative at worst?
The film’s title – hell, the film’s very existence – proves that there can be no simple solution. The filmmaker recognizes as much, as he shifts the spotlight in the film’s second half towards the various supporting characters – many of them the very subjects of the 2010 book – and gives them room to shine on screen.
Always interesting, if at some points a touch too inward-looking, “Between Two Worlds” is almost its own sequel. For those who wonder what might become of its many working class subjects once the screen fades to black, the film comes with a neat answer: They made a movie, it went to Cannes, and when members of the cast joined the filmmaker on stage at the end of the screening, the two worlds met again.
Check out TheWrap’s digital Cannes magazine issue here.