Juliette Binoche stars in this French drama in what initially seems like an uncharacteristic role for her. Marianne is a down on her luck woman looking for a menial job in a town in Northern France. She joins a legion of mostly women, cleaning and being treated horribly. She scrubs toilets, swabs floors, does all the dirty work and still gets fired. But she’s making friends with this cleaning subculture who tell her about a job working on the ferries at the port and she jumps at it. It’s the job from hell, on a very tight schedule between ferry arrivals and departures. They have just four minutes to clean a room – stripping and remaking bunk beds as well as cleaning the bathrooms, floors, etc. But there is a sense of camaraderie among the cleaning crew and Marianne becomes close with one particular woman, Christèle (Hélène Lambert). Only, Marianne is keeping a secret that could put her job and friendship in jeopardy.
Marianne is not who she seems. She’s actually a journalist embedding herself with her subjects, planning a book about the exploitation of subsistence level workers in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. And she’s most afraid of what finding out who she is will do to her relationship with her new friend, which it is inevitable, and when it does happen, is understandably difficult.
A longtime passion project for Academy Award® winner Juliette Binoche, the film is adapted from Florence Aubenas’s 2011 bestseller, “Le Quai de Ouistreham (The Night Cleaner)”. Aubenas did not want the book to be adapted, but Binoche invited her to dinner every year until she relented. Still, the movie is not totally true to the book. It adds the relationship between Marianne and Christèle, which creates a feeling of tension and guilt about the secret and it allows for a more intimate look at the lives of the workers just scraping by. Except for Binoche, all the women in the film are non-actors and Hélène Lambert who plays Christèle is outstanding as the tough single mom with a heart.
This is not a film you need to see on the big screen. Binoche is always worth watching and this being an intimate film, it is a great one to put in your streaming cue for a cosy night in.
In limited release now. Check your local theaters.