NorthThe ovelist and filmmaker Emmanuel Carrère has devised this sincerely intentioned but naive and arrogant drama about poverty and the economy of work, starring Juliette Binoche, in tears. It is an adaptation of the 2010 French non-fiction bestseller Le Quai de Ouistreham by investigative journalist Florence Aubenas, published in the UK under the title The Night Cleaner.
In it, Aubenas describes his experiences of “going undercover” and working in the brutal world of cleaning in Caen, northern France, where desperate applicants have to polish their CVs with fatuous assurances about how passionate they are about cleaning. cleaning, in exchange for a dehumanizing job with pitiful pay, appalling conditions, and no job security. The bleakest part of the job is scrubbing the toilets and cleaning the cabins on the ferry between Ouistreham and Portsmouth. The book follows the covert tradition of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, and Polly Toynbee’s Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain.
Perhaps what could have been valuable would have been a documentary presented by Aubenas herself, about what has been achieved and what has not been achieved for concert workers in France since her book came out, or possibly a fiction by Loach based on the real life of these. workers. What Carrère has done is create a drama in which it is the fictional Aubenas who is the center of an imagined gallery of brave workers, her new best friends. The real dramatic crisis comes with Aubenas’s terrible dilemma when she has to confess to them that she has been lying all this time, and using their lives as raw material for her book, which she will write as soon as she returns to her rich and elegant life. in Paris. Some of her soon-to-be-abandoned friends will forgive her when they see how important her book is. Some may not.
Despite this excruciatingly obtuse and conceited emotional ending, there is revealing material on the lives of the workers and some enjoyable performances. And, of course, the question of whether such journalism is illusory or parasitic is perfectly valid. (It’s part of the comic point in Preston Sturges’ 1941 satire Sullivan’s Travels, about the film director announcing that he will live as a tramp to make his serious masterpiece O Brother, Where Art Thou?)
However, the character of Binoche never reflects that the lived experience of this type of work is brutal due to the knowledge that this is all you have: the undercover journalist knows that he can return to a comfortable life reasonably soon, an even longer life. done. comfortable for a possible bestseller (and a movie offering).
The film ultimately behaves as if the journalist’s drama is just as important as its apparent subject, the injustice of exploitative labor practices, and doesn’t even investigate that topic thoroughly. Aubenas’ real life in Paris may well have had all kinds of crises and complications in which things were personally at stake for her, but they do not appear here. Neither world of the film’s English title is enlightened enough.