No clever opening. I saw this trailer once the last time I was at the Nuart theater in West Hollywood. That’s it.
The story looks like it’s about a writing class taught by an expert writing teacher, and one of her students might be a little disturbed.
The cast is French, so I wouldn’t have the slightest idea who would be who. But, starring, we have Marina Foïs and Matthieu Lucci, who is making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir.
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing is Laurent Cantet. His partner-in-pen is Robin Compillo. Co-composing the score are Edouard Pons and Bedis Tir. The cinematographer is Pierre Milon. Finally, the editor is Mathilde Muyard.
Overall, the movie looks kind of compelling. I mean, I’m not sure it’s any game changer, but it looks pretty solid. So long it doesn’t result in the student and teacher having an affair, I think I’ll be okay. Something’s telling me that if the story goes in that direction, it’ll annoy me. In any case, my uncultured American mind could use some French filmmaking.
This is my honest opinion of: THE WORKSHOP / L’ATELIER
Set in La Ciotat, France, over a single Summer. A writing workshop is set up for a small group of seven students, headed by renowned author, Olivia Dejazet (Marina Foïs). The group is tasked with writing a novel together, a murder mystery using the nearby dockyard that has been shut down for 25 years as the setting. As ideas are thrown around, one student starts to make waves, and not in a positive way. Antoine (Matthieu Lucci) becomes an outspoken student with extreme ideas that could even be construed as racist and as the class progresses, his behavior becomes even more disturbing.
It’s alright. I think as an uncultured American swine, there’s a lot of French culture and history that only natives or those who are more cultured than myself can truly appreciate, but it’s not a bad flick.
First off, I really enjoy the acting. I’m pretty sure most of the younger actors are making their debuts here and I think that most of them are pretty solid. They seem to have really good chemistry with one another, bouncing back and forth between exchanges, and even their own distinct personalities, despite learning very little about them individually. Benjamin is a grump who doesn’t want to be there, Malika has strong pride to her Arabic culture, able to acknowledge its positives and negatives, Bouba is the fun-loving one, the list goes on. I wouldn’t be surprised if this mirrored reality, in that Foïs was teaching a small acting class and then had this movie made with her real life students. I’m sure that’s not the case, but a little Peruvian boy can dream, can’t he?
Anyway, the two standouts are obviously Foïs and Lucci as the leads and they’re damn good too. Olivia starts off simply trying to be a teacher to these kids, getting their creative juices going, while also making active efforts to keep them from tearing each other apart from their petty insults, especially when Antoine gets his pistons firing. He’s by far the most confrontational and arguably the most hostile of the students. He’s even the most disturbed, writing graphic violence in his draft of a scene for the novel. The more his behavior becomes to the surface, the more fascinated by Olivia he becomes to her. Hell, they become a source of fascination for each other, he possibly in a lustful sort of way for him, and for her, a source of inspiration for a character in the new book she’s writing, maybe with a hint of attraction on her part too. I would almost argue that Antoine has some self-image problems, be it the negative or positive sense. Already we can guess that he surrounds himself with questionable friends who post videos of them trying to act tough with a gun, but when he has to pose in front of a mirror after a workout, or watches military ads on his computer. Both Olivia and Antoine are solid characters and Foïs and Lucci do a great job bringing their characters to life.
However, I do have my issues with the film.
For one thing, I don’t think it’s explained very well where Antoine’s mental instabilities come from. He lives with both of his parents, who don’t seem like bad people. They seem attentive, they have dinner as a family, he’s a loving big brother to his little sister. With all of that in mind, his disturbing nature doesn’t feel natural. Sure, he has questionable friends and they do relatively irresponsible things, but lots of teenagers do that and rarely to never take it any further because they know better.
Also it’s a slow burn. Not much seems to ignite later scenes that get more dramatic, so we’re kind of just listening to Antoine being an unapologetic asshole to everyone, even to Olivia, and Olivia trying to simmer down the infighting. Kind of like Olivia keeps saying, it’s exhausting. It also becomes uninteresting. Antoine’s an asshole. We get it. Why… is he an asshole. I don’t think this movie ever explains it.
I really hated the way this movie ended. Circling back to Antoine going ape-shit and holding Olivia at gunpoint, this scene seems to go nowhere. He takes her to the cliffs where they dive and swim, and he just… lets her go. There’s no epic speech, no declarations of her not understanding him, nothing of that nature. Of any nature. He fires a few shots at the moon, hurls the gun into the ocean, and cut to the next scene. I legitimately don’t know what the purpose of all that was. And to make matters even worse, Olivia never notifies the authorities. She goes to class the next day, Antoine reads his goodbye paper, leaves, Olivia sits back down at her desk, and that’s it for that scene. Then the movie closes out with Antoine working on a boat, as if this is supposed to be some sort of inspirational and uplifting ending for his character. Dude, two scenes ago he was holding a sidearm up at his teacher, and has recorded her on his phone at her home and uploaded them to his computer to look at! Look, I get it, the French are more artistic than Americans and create truly provocative films, but… seriously, I might need classes of my own to fully comprehend this, it was so bizarre and confusing.
I’m sure this movie is trying to be deeper than I think, and if I took the time to really read some of the reviews on this movie, I’d be a little more in the loop, as I think the film is more or less an allegory for the current state of France. But as it stands, the characters are bland, yet the acting is great in spite of it. The film has some charm to it, as well as an intrigue that keeps you guessing, but has a very unsatisfying payoff. I’m sure this has its audience somewhere out there, but I can’t claim to be among them. As a recommendation, viewer beware. I hate to say it in the manner that I’m about to say it, but this may be a little too French for my taste. Unless you’re up to date with French current events, which I’m not, then appreciation for this film may be a little dwindled. But if you are familiar with it, then you might find some artistic value in its commentary. I don’t hate the film… okay, I hate the ending, but I certainly don’t regret seeing this movie, nor do I think any time was wasted. Having said that, I won’t be seeing it a second time. But if either Foïs or Lucci ever make a movie that makes its way to America again, count me in, as I think they’re very good actors. But given what I got now, meh, not very interesting in the end. The culturally aware might find something to like, but the uncultured may get bored.
My honest rating for THE WORKSHOP / L’ATELIER: 3/5