Entre Deux Mondes (Between Two Worlds) and how it relates to transparency issues in global supply chains.
By Tessa Boumans
“I don’t want to hear about how the crisis and unemployment are abstract things anymore. I need to experience daily life first-hand. I need to see what really lives.”
With these words, Marianne — lead character from the movie “Entre Deux Mondes” — justifies her going under cover in the world of cleaning ladies. While doing so, Marianne (played by Juliette Binoche) establishes heartfelt connections while trying to balance the ethical considerations of lying to her new relationships about who she really is; a renowned author for whom this precarious existence is only temporary. Her position thus standing in bleak contrast with the rest of the workers, who recurringly express the distress of their situation.
Unfortunately, Marianne’s going undercover does not come without a price. As a social worker explains to her early on, she takes a job which could have been given to someone else, someone who needs it to sustain in their livelihood. But even more devastating is her sudden absence from the lives of the friends she made along the way. Throw in the illusion of trust and treating people as mere study objects, and you have a cocktail of dehumanizing circumstances. Ultimately, Entre Deux Mondes leaves the viewer with an unheimlich feeling about the invasion of privacy, betrayal of friendship and utter sympathy for the workers.
Marianne’s ultimate goal is to write a book about the harsh realities of precarious work of cleaning ladies in the French town of Ouistreham, to show the world… what exactly? The movie raises many questions about the ethics of undercover journalism, but it also raises another less obvious question: what happens when we ‘uncover’ the ugly truth? In the movie, Marianne grows especially close to the bold Chrystèle (played by Hélène Lambert). However, when push comes to shove, Marianne turns her a blind eye, leaving the precarious life as easily as she entered it. Her contribution boiling down to a report of her experiences. A book deal for her and recognition for the cleaning ladies, win-win right?
Of course, we are reviewing a movie here, thus adding to the dramatique. However, the movie helps us understand real life issues that coincide with the call for transparency of global supply chains. With the support of advanced technologies such as AI, transparency has become a buzzword for sustainable development in supply chain management. In notoriously complex supply chains, transparency is often heralded as a solution for many issues, from general Human Resource Management to more serious labor rights violations. However, the benefits of transparency for workers depends largely on the mindset of corporations. Are technologies used as a tool to build social relations and improve dialogue and collaboration throughout the chain, or are the goals of the technology oriented towards control? Surveillance, the creepy brother of the term ‘monitoring’, is becoming a more common practice on the work floor, especially since the global pandemic struck. In line with other digitization trends worldwide, workers are increasingly being defined in terms of their data. If Entre deux mondes teaches us anything, it is to be skeptical of the purposes of retrieving worker data, be it qualitative or quantitative.
The character Marianne unveils how transparency does not automatically lead to much needed transformative change. By secretly taking the cleaning ladies as her main study objects, Marianne feeds into the habit of devaluing the voices of these women. It begs the question if the debate on labor rights and decent work really needs more distressing anecdotes as experienced and told by people like Marianne. Do we not already know many examples of the pressure that the livelihoods of these women are under? And if we do not know, maybe we need just ask. If anything, the opening quote of this piece shows how that data on precarious workers is already out there, and Marianne’s adventure is first and foremost in service to her world of one. Marianne’s method fails to account for the most pressing issue; which is that we need to take the voices of workers serious, treat them as equal interlocutors, try to understand their perspectives and needs through social dialogue, and in doing so work towards inclusive societal change.
What is most revealing about the ending of the movie however, is the struggle to move beyond transparency. Marianne writes her book, the story is out for the world to read. But: then what? Do people take up arms to address the working conditions of these cleaning ladies? Does anything actually change for them? Do their wages go up, do they get more agency over their work and personal lives? Although the movie leaves us hanging, we can assume that main study object Chrystèle is not significantly better off after the intervention of Marianne. Ultimately, the system that fuels stories like Chrystèle’s is not critically addressed. In a way, Marianne acts accordingly to the exploitative system in which the cleaning ladies operate. She takes advantage of their trust, collects their stories for her own benefit and retreats back to her comfortable and secure life. A luxury the cleaning ladies she worked with, among which Chrystèle, cannot afford.