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The scene is set one Summer in La Ciotat, a town near Marseille which used to be prosperous thanks to its huge dockyard but has been in decline since its closing 25 years before. It is in this context of quiet desperation that a writing workshop has been set up to help a group of seven young people integrate into the world of work. Under the guidance of well-known novelist Olivia Dejazet, the participants are asked to write a noir fiction connected with the industrial past of their hometown. Session after session, one of them, a boy named Antoine, stands out. Provocative and aggressive, he gets noticed by his systematic opposition to all, including Olivia. Even more alarming, the story he has devised and that he reads aloud, the cold description of a mass murder seen through the eyes of its perpetrator, proves very disturbing. Antoine understands the killer too well. At this point, Olivia starts experiencing a feeling of attraction repulsion to Antoine.Written by
For those who have seen Laurent Cantet's previous film 'Entre les murs', his new movie 'L'atelier' can have a 'déja vu' effect. Both films share the same concept: a group of French teenagers from all walks of life, brought together under the supervision of an adult, talk about their lives and what's going on in society. 'Entre les murs' was almost entirely set in a school building, 'L'atelier' shows a creative writing workshop in La Ciotat, a town on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille.
There are many similarities between both movies, but also many differences. 'L'atelier' delves deep into the psychology of one workshop participant, and also shows the world around the house where the workshop takes place. In a way, it is more complex and deeper than 'Entre les murs'.
The location of the film is very important. La Ciotat is a town in decline, but the local population cherishes nostalgic memories of its past as an important ship building town. Cantet uses historical footage to show this glorious past. The shipyard is still there, but it is no longer in use. The resentment of the locals is a rich feeding ground for anti-immigrant politicians.
These problems will soon dominate the workshop, led by the elegant Parisian author Olivia Dejazet. The kids in the workshop think she is snobbish and doesn't really understand their problems, but she soon shows her teaching talent by coaching their sentiments and encouraging them to use those feelings in their writing efforts.
Dejazet is intrigued by Antoine, a provocative workshop participant who shocks with his extreme and cruel writing efforts. She wants to understand what's going on in his head, partly because she considers using this insight in her next novel. In turn, Antoine tries to analyze Dejazet's way of thinking by dissecting one of her novels. After a while the mutual obsession between teacher and pupil gets out of hand.
'L'Atelier' tackles the problems of modern French society in a very original way. The contrasts are numerous: the intellectuals in Paris versus the working class population in the industrial towns, the Muslim population versus the non-Muslims (the Bataclan massacre is one of the discussion subjects), and the ultra-right populists versus the socialist left. But the film is also a psychological drama between two strong characters, both played very effectively. Laurent Cantet has put French society under the microscope, and shows that there is a lot of dissent, but also much hope for better times.
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