In the winter of 2009, the French journalist Florence Aubenas traveled from Paris to Caen. There she rented a room and registered as a job seeker. Aubenas wanted to get to know the economic crisis in France from the perspective of the precariat. She stayed in Caen for six months, then packed her things, moved back to the capital and wrote a book about her experiences.
During the six months of her research, Aubenas worked primarily as an hourly cleaner. A woman she met at one of her jobs gave her a place on the cleaning crew that cleans the cabins on the channel ferry between Ouistreham and Portsmouth every evening. According to Aubenas’ report, which she consequently called “Le Quai de Ouistreham”, everyone who falls outside of normal working life in Caen ends up in Ouistreham at some point. The sentence is also used in the film that Emmanuel Carrère made based on the book by Aubenas. Ten years have passed between its release and the film adaptation, and one wonders why.
The film shortens the title to Ouistreham and the plot to 100 minutes. At the beginning you see a woman walking between prefabricated buildings to the employment office at dawn, where she complains about a lost application. It is not Marianne Winckler, as the reporter is called here, but Christèle, the colleague who will get her the job on the ferry. The burden of embodying the “real life” that the German distribution title promises to viewers rests on the shoulders of actress Hélène Lambert and the other amateur actors Carrère hired for his film.
Because Marianne Winckler is played by Juliette Binoche. That Binoche appeared during the shooting as if she weren’t a star was confirmed by the entire film crew, and you don’t see that on camera either. But you know. The face with which Juliette Binoche expresses tiredness, curiosity, defiance, joy or sadness has simply been seen too often in the cinema to be able to forget its history. Binoche is great, she hasn’t forgotten the child’s gaze with which she led us through Milan Kundera’s Prague in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”. But she remains a star. That doesn’t speak against Ouistreham, but it does mark a boundary that the film doesn’t and probably doesn’t want to go beyond.
Florence Aubenas chose the director Carrère, perhaps because he is actually a writer. In 2005, Carrère filmed one of his own books, “La Mustache”, “Ouistreham” is only his second feature film direction. A dozen other novels were written before and after, some of them with autobiographical elements; Carrère’s most recent book, Yoga, was censored by his ex-wife by court order. Truth, as Emmanuel Carrère explained in interviews, is the most important criterion for good literature. For Ouistreham, it seems, after that sentence, there was no better director. Except it’s not him.
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