The Workshop (L’atelier)

The Workshop

In its approach to debating controversial topics and possessing an inbuilt desire for open, frank, inviting conversations, The Workshop is almost a spiritual sequel to Laurent Cantet’s masterpiece The Class. Employing a similar set up of a teacher engaging in talky sessions with her students, it covers a broad yet related range, from the basic constructs of what it takes to write a novel to multiculturalism and even ethnic differences between individuals.

The Workshop is set in the Southern French town of La Ciotat, where a novelist conducts a short workshop on how to write with the eventual aim of getting her small group of students to hopefully pen their very first novel. The exercise is a group activity and is refreshingly set in the sunny outdoors, where the young participants deconstruct, using their own candid, sometimes clumsy banters, what in their view should be the ingredients of a noir crime story set in their hometown and employing its history of a once large and prosperous shipping yard. These discussions are fascinating because they combine intelligent debate with an argumentative slant that is relatable because it is simple and logical and not seeped in overtly alienating intellectualism. Consider for example the ideological perspective of some of the less enthusiastic students who ask why they should learn to write if they will never become writers, or the harsher question posed to the teacher – why has she come to them to teach if she can still write.

Like his previous work, Cantet uses all of this to build towards something. In this case, it is the troubling realization that one of the students may not be in perfect harmony with the racial composition of his class (which itself is a microcosm of modern-day France), perhaps even that of the entire country itself. The film approaches this in the discreet, almost sensitive manner that it certainly demands. Somewhere along the way it loses a bit of its tight grip when the teacher decides to get personal – this happens every time she and the film itself steps out of the classroom setting. In this way, The Workshop is different to The Class, but also, and only in comparison, a lesser film because it tries to take on more than it should or even could. This ambitiousness, however, should do little to ward off viewers who are willing to go along with this realistic drama.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and