The Workshop

 

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Life and literature intertwine in a film that looks at France today.

 
Workshop, The  

Matthieu Lucci and Marina Foïs

 

Laurent Cantet's latest work, another piece written in collaboration with Robin Campillo now a noted director in his own right, is intriguing and unusual but in total less than satisfactory. In some respects, The Workshop suggests a variation on their famous 2008 movie The Class but with a literary course for would-be young novelists substituting for the teaching in a high school in Paris. The location this time (well used in the filming) is the coastal town of La Ciotat near Marseille and the teacher in charge is Olivia Dejazet (Marina Foïs) herself a novelist. Her students are seven in number, two girls and five boys with mixed backgrounds, and together they discuss the project deciding that the book which they will embark upon should be a thriller set locally.

 

Cantet's approach gives the sessions remarkable conviction and demonstrates again his ability to obtain wonderfully persuasive performances from a number of non-professional players. All of the students are cast in this way, including the role of Antoine that becomes central. It is this youth played by Matthieu Lucci   whose provocative ideas lead to tensions in the group and much concern on the part of Olivia who views Antoine with alarm but also with fascination. His first written contribution describes a scene of violence so graphically that Olivia becomes fearful as to what this fictional piece may be revealing about the boy himself and she is all the more disturbed when she learns that Antoine's cousin is linked to right-wing extremists and likes to play with guns.

 

If the literary discussions fascinate in their own right, Lucci's ability to bring Antoine alive as a boy who lives in his own head and whose intentions cannot easily be read brings the personal drama vividly into focus and Fois herself is very well cast. These two elements interconnect effectively, but a whole range of references suggests a film of huge contemporary ambition. Literature and its power for good or bad provide a theme and so too does history both past (La Ciotat as a once noted port now in decline) and present. Specific mention of terrorist incidents (the Bataclan shootings, the seafront attack at Nice) emphasise the film's view of France as a divided nation with right-wing extremism growing and social neglect a reason for questioning how things stand. It is when these diverse ideas need to come together and to be meaningful in the view we reach of Antoine as being either a danger or a victim that The Workshop fails to deliver fully. Instead, the narrative takes turns that make us question the tale's credibility before concluding in a way that leaves us with questions rather than answers. How satisfactory that is may divide opinion but, even with a running length not far short of two hours, The Workshop never ceases to hold our interest.

 

Original title: L'atelier.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Marina Foïs, Matthieu Lucci, Florian Beaujean, Mamadou Doumbia, Mélissa Guilbert, Warda Rammach, Julien Souve, Issam Talbi, Olivier Thouret.

 

Dir Laurent Cantet, Pro Denis Freyd, Screenplay Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantet, Ph Pierre Milon, Art Dir Serge Borgel, Ed Mathilde Muyard, Music Bedis Tir and Edouard Pons, Costumes Agnès Giudicelli.

 

Archipel 35/French 2 Cinéma/Canal+/Ciné+-Curzon Artificial Eye.
114 mins. France/Belgium. 2017. Rel: 16 November 2018. Cert. 15.