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by Scott Macaulay
Laurent Cantet’s The Workshop boasts a concept that in another picture might result in a piece of twisty, intellectualized metafiction: a semi-successful novelist, Olivia (Marina Foïs), teaches a writing workshop to a multi-racial group of young students in La Ciotat, a small town just south of Marseille. She encourages the students to explore the concept of genre — to conceive of a murder mystery — and to also connect to the working-class history of the place itself. One student, a young white teenager named Antoine (Matthieu Lucci), seems both engaged and roiled by the assignment; his cooly disturbing writings sit stylistically between a flat, dispassionate sort of existentalist prose and the kind of violent musings that might be found on some subreddit board. As his writings provoke both Olivia and his fellow classmates, Cantet’s film itself becomes, as the director says below, “contaminated” by Antoine’s introduction of anti-social rage into this otherwise idyllic educational setting.
Title - Director - Work - Palme - Class
With a title echoing the director’s best-known work (the 2008 Palme d’Or-winning The Class, which also featured a teacher struggling to connect to the daily lives of a diverse new generation of students), The Workshop plays with genre ideas and generates real suspense while remaining grounded in Cantet’s socially-engaged, documentary-tinged realist style. Speaking directly to vital issues surrounding socialization, radicalization, and the ways in which young lives can be changed in both positive and detrimental ways, the film’s themes, as we discuss below, are enabled by the director’s method, which employs non-actors who are asked to internalize their characters and bring their own experiences and ideas to their parts. Indeed, despite the film’s sustained, sunlit ominousness and flashes of violence, The Workshop is, as Cantet says, his most “optimistic” film yet.
The Workshop is currently in theaters from Strand Releasing.
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