VOD film review: The Workshop
Matthew Turner | On 16, Nov 2018
Director: Laurent Cantet
Cast: Marina Foïs, Matthieu Lucci, Warda Rammach, Mamadou Doumbia, Florian Beaujean, Issam Talbi
Watch The Workshop online in the UK: Sky Cinema / Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Directed by Laurent Cantet and written by Robin Campillo (whose previous collaborations include 2008 award-winner The Class), The Workshop stars Marina Foïs as Olivia, a Parisian novelist who’s being paid to run a young people’s writing workshop in the old French harbour town of La Ciotat. Her racially diverse students (a cast of non-professionals) are tasked with collaborating on a novel and they decide to write a locally set thriller that begins with the discovery of a corpse.
However, one student, Antoine (Matthieu Lucci), proves overly confrontational and disturbs the rest of the class with his essay about a shooting aboard a yacht in the La Ciotat marina. When Marina investigates Antoine online, she discovers he’s a supporter of a local far-right group, but she finds herself drawn to him, trying to get at the root of his disaffection, perhaps because she intends to use his voice in her next novel. Meanwhile, Antoine becomes increasingly obsessed with Marina, setting their relationship on a dangerous path.
Both Foïs and Lucci (a real find) pitch their characters perfectly, so that the audience is constantly left wondering what’s under the surface of their interactions. What does Marina hope to achieve by pushing Antoine as far as she does in their conversations, given that she knows his background? Is she naïve, or is she actively courting a dangerous situation? And is Antoine’s infatuation with Marina driven by eroticism or something more sinister? Even when the film reaches its dramatic high point, the answers to those questions aren’t entirely clear, which is simultaneously provocative and frustrating.
In the early part of the film, the students grapple with topical issues such as the real-life French terror attacks, the rise of the far right and economic deprivation in compelling fashion – the result of workshopped sessions with the actors themselves. The discussions become increasingly fraught and tense, thanks to Antoine’s combative contributions, but they’re offset by humorous interjections from Issam Talbi, as the group’s only black student.
It’s never adequately explained, though, just how the joint novel-writing exercise is supposed to work – are they all working on the same novel, or writing their own individual versions, based on the storyline they’ve all agreed? Admittedly, it’s a small detail, but given the film is called The Workshop, it seems odd that the script doesn’t bother to establish how its workshop actually works. As the story progresses, the rest of the cast are then sidelined in favour of the developing situation between Marina and Antoine, which feels a little like the film getting tired of its own concept and deciding to do something else instead. While ostensibly tense and frightening, it isn’t remotely convincing on the level of recognisable human behaviour, and the whole thing suffers as a result.
The Workshop is available on Sky Cinema from Wednesday 5th June 2019. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.