In Review: The Workshop
Director: Laurent Cantet
In a virtual landscape, a lone man climbs a summit, crossbow in hand. He aims at the sun and opens fire. Laurent Cantet’s opening scene to his latest film The Workshop is a video game played by Antoine, from his bedroom in La Ciotat, South of France.
Antoine has been selected to take part in a summer writing course in his hometown (a former fishing port) with a group of young locals, run by well-known author Olivia (Marina Fois). ‘The idea of the workshop is to write about your town,’ she tells them.
Everything seems rather idyllic and alluring as the group debate in the sun about what makes a brilliant narrative. They decide not to buy into American cliches. They are bright and thoughtful, but none more intriguing to Olivia than Antoine, who seems reticent and sceptical, pitching much darker themes and possibilities for their novel. As the group settle on the idea of a murder plot, tensions arise between them. Their races and religious backgrounds are brought forward and things become much more raw.
The film is set after the horrific 2015 Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris, which resulted in the death of 130 innocent people. There are Muslim participants in the workshop, and the debate is heated. ‘A Jihadi story now?’ One asks. ‘40% of those radicalised are white French converts.’ As the teens debate, we align with Olivia’s increasing intrigue and concern for Antoine. She defends him, stating that you don’t have to be a sociopath to write one but as she begins to look into his life, we realise she may not be so sure. Is this boy brilliant, dangerous, or just a struggling teenager trying to understand his purpose?
It doesn’t take long to begin to wonder when the thriller they are constructing together as a group will start to bleed into reality. What motivates people to choose their political and religious beliefs? What drives a person to kill? To choose which YouTube clips to watch or video games to play? Cantet’s dark and unsettling film catches us in the middle of a frightening conversation that may become all too real. He skilfully keeps us guessing, the true mark of any brilliant narrative. SC