Staying true to his cherished themes, Laurent Cantet (Palme d’Or at Cannes for The Class in 2008) — has teamed up with co-writer Robin Campillo (César Award for Best Film for 120 Beats Per Minute in 2018) to offer another vision of youth and social ties. We asked the director three questions while he was in New York for the movie’s U.S. release.
Successful writer Olivia (Marina Foïs) leaves Paris to spend a summer in La Ciotat, near Marseille, leading a writing workshop for working-class teens. One of the group, Antoine (Matthieu Lucci), is a sullen young man with a penchant for firearms and far-right rhetoric. He soon clashes with Olivia, who finds herself both frightened and fascinated by the violence within him. The movie portrays a wayward, bitter French youth, and Laurent Cantet offers a political vision of the dialogue between two worlds that struggle to interact, without trying to teach lessons or point fingers.
France-Amérique: Speech is a major theme in the movie — also encompassing the silence of Antoine, who seems to be scared of words. The dialogues at the workshop, which are supposed to enable the young people to express themselves, often take place in confrontational situations. Is this a movie about language and the difficulties of communication?
Laurent Cantet: It is certainly a film about words, and the search for the right ones, which are a social weapon in themselves. In the same way as The Class, I was interested in young people because their speech is not policed. This is also a movie about the dialogue between two worlds: that of an intellectual who expresses herself with ease, appears on television, and who can control and manipulate what she says. And that of young people made vulnerable by this same language, and who try to harness the strength of words in an attempt to find their place in society.
Why did you film in La Ciotat, instead of the nearby Marseille, which you know particularly well?
I really like this town, and it has such a meaningful past defined by the struggle of the working classes. One of the goals of the writing workshop in the film is to encourage young people to reappropriate their town’s glorious history; the novel they are asked to write together has to include inspirations from their daily lives and environment. This working-class culture disappeared with the closure of the shipyard in the 1970s. The site is still there, but it is now used to repair luxury yachts.
Should we take The Workshop to be a portrait of a generation without purpose?
The movie is not a documentary about youth. But we did write the screenplay after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. It was shaped in a context of urgency, of a young generation lacking perspectives and points of reference. But it is also a film about how appealing different extremes can be, such as nationalism or jihadism. It shows young people in danger faced with boredom and a feeling of powerlessness.
U.S. release: March 23
Director: Laurent Cantet
With: Marina Foïs, Matthieu Lucci, Florian Beaujean
Running Time: 113 min