“On a quay in Normandy”: an exquisite portrait of the journalist as an impostor in which Carrére transcends the conventions of social denunciation

As his colleague Michel Houllebecq had already done freely by adapting his own novel with ‘La possibility d’une île’ (2008), it was only a matter of time before the writer Emmanuel Carrere interest in cinema. Indeed, this ‘Sur un quai en Normandie’ is preceded by the documentary ‘Retour à Kotelnich’ (2003) and an adaptation of his short novel ‘La Moustache’, ‘La moustache’ (2005), with Vincent Lindon, who Don’t They had a premiere in Spain.

Similarly, Carrère has always been interested in film writing, as evidenced by his participation in series such as ‘Les Revenants’ or ‘Collection Fred Vargas’, even if ‘En un dock de Normandie’ (in the original French, the title corresponds to the name of the wharf, Ouistreham) is his most ambitious project Until now.

The story is based on the best-selling novel ‘El Quai de Ouistreham’, in which the journalist Florence Aubenas carries out a process of authentic “gonzo journalism”, in direct relation to the writings of Tom Wolfe, Terry Southern and, of course, Hunter S. Thompson, which corresponds to the coining of the term, infiltrating a group of cleaners on the Ouistreham wharf conduct an analysis of precarious employment conditions and transform their experiences and conclusions into a novel of a situation as generational as it is universal.

Beyond social commitment with a great Binoche

Interested in a project which, since its publication, has already undergone several theatrical and radio adaptations, the actress Juliette Binoche considered that the writer, current maximum representative of narrative autofiction and author of works as praised and controversial as ‘The adversary’, ‘From the lives of others’, ‘Limonov’ or the recent ‘Yoga’ would be the person ideal to take him to the big screen.

During his first act, Carrère clearly follows the style book of filmmakers such as Ken Loach, Stephen Frears or Mike Leigh, or in his country, the Dardenne brothers and Robert Guédiguian. The director, who signs the script with Helen Devinkplays with the viewer by not discovering the true identity of its protagonist until well before in the action, showing that “Un quai en Normandie” is not just another compromised film and that its real interest lies in the internal conflict of its central character and in her role as undercover and impostor.

This brings the result of the corpus closer to Carrère’s work (we are not so far, for example, from ‘El adversario’, one of his most famous novels, or documentaries like ‘Ich Bin Enric Marco’ by Santiago Fillol and Lucas Bermal; or ‘Perfect’ by James Bridges) and to the films of the most unclassifiable and heterodox filmmakers, such as Oliver Assayas. In any case, the film resists the classification and this works in its favor, especially in the second half of its footage.

It is remarkable that the director is attracted not only by the voice and point of view of his protagonist, but above all workers’ sense of community, which brings his work closer to classics such as “The Salt of the Earth” (Herbert J. Biberman, 1954) or “Bitter Rice” (Giuseppe de Santis, 1949). The female gaze also recalls recent titles of Latin American cinema, minor but estimable, such as the Brazilian ‘The Second Mother’, the Chilean ‘La Nana’ or the Mexican ‘La camarista’. However, the particular look of its director ends up prevailing over any mold of simple social denunciation.

‘On a quay in Normandy’: the impossible search for the truth

It is worth noting the work of Juliette Binoche to one of the best roles of his recent career. The film is also his gestures, his looks, his delicate and dosed nuances. Remarkable are the compositions of the rest of the cast, essential to give credibility and complicity to the group scenes.

Carrère concludes the film with a double epilogue marked by the ambiguity: on the one hand, it justifies the existence of social journalism and the figure of the infiltrator as impostor, but also, in the final scene, questions its human nature, as if the film itself doubted its very relevance and of his honesty, something as impudent as it is unusual in this type of cinema, always imbued with a certain moral superiority.

That no one expects to get a clear answer and a definitive and soothing message from ‘En un dock de Normandía’; rather a reflection on a life event marked by uncertainty, uprooting and, in short, impossible search for absolute truth. All this is reflected in his images in a shocking and transparent way.