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The Workshop (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

The Workshop

THE WORKSHOP (L’ATELIER) (2017)

Starring Marina Foïs, Matthieu Lucci, Florian Beaujean, Mamadou Doumbia, Melissa Guilbert, Warda Rammach, Julien Souve, Issam Talbi, Olivier Thouret, Charlie Bardé, Marie Tarabella, Youcef Agal, Marianne Esposito, Thibaut Hernandez, Axel Caillet, Lény Sellam, Anne-Sophie Fayolle and Cédric Martinez.

Screenplay by Robin Campillo & Laurent Cantet.

Directed by Laurent Cantet.

Distributed by Strand Releasing. 113 minutes. Not Rated.

Director Laurent Cantet returned to his native France, and to the basic style of his 2009 Oscar-nominated film The Class, with his latest film The Workshop. Once again focusing his movie on a teacher and a group of students, this film flips the story a bit to make it a thriller.

He also moves the action from inner-city Paris to a beach town on the French Riviera. But still, Cantet is working in familiar ground, and it suits him. After a couple of unimpressive attempts to make English-language films, The Workshop is surely his best movie in the decade since The Class.

The setup is pleasantly simple: a popular and respected novelist, Olivia Dejazet (Marina Fois), decides to take a summer gig in a beach resort teaching thriller writing to a politically and ethnically diverse group of local teens. For the most part, the kids have differing levels of talent or interest, but all of them seem to find it a fun diversion. It certainly beats working over the summer.

However, Olivia become intrigued by one of the students, Antoine (Matthieu Lucci). Antoine has more raw talent than any of the others, but he also has a total disconnect to the power of his words, an inability to understand the feelings of others. He is also the one person who really doesn’t want to be there, and he quickly becomes a bit ostracized because while in the classes he tends to provoke his fellow students with sensationalism and uncomfortable questions.

This disconnect extends to his home life. He may be a white nationalist – he certainly hangs out with friends and family members who are part of the alt right. Yet, he does not feel at home there either. He doesn’t understand why everyone is judging him when he hasn’t figured out who he is himself. Is he dangerous, or just apathetic?

Olivia, who is struggling to write her own latest novel, wants to try to harness Antoine’s talent and connect with him as a person. She even thinks about creating a character loosely based upon him. However, the more she gets to know the guy, the more she realizes that she may be in over her head. In the meantime, Antoine feels constrained by everyone’s views of him, feeling that no one, friends and family included, really understand him.

This connection between teacher and student keeps threatening to spin out of control, and yet Olivia can’t help herself, she wants to understand this anti-social young man better. No, not in a romantic way, she just wants to get a handle on what makes the kid tick.

Like The Class, the great majority of the cast is made up of non-professionals (with the exception of Fois, basically), students playing students. As the rifts grow bigger in the group – bringing up such hot-button issues as race, class, terrorism, and neo-Nazism – the tension ratchets up.

It is on this razor’s edge of potential violence that the differences between The Workshop and The Class really come into focus. Despite the similar setting, The Workshop is a very different film than Cantet’s previous work. And it is just as good, which is high praise indeed.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 6, 2018.

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