Tag: marina fois

The Workshop

The Workshop (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

The quietly alluring “The Workshop,” written by Robin Campillo and Laurent Cantent, is courageous because it asks the viewers to empathize with a young man who has the potential to become radicalized by the extreme right. The keyword is “potential” because the material, for the majority of the time, is vague in terms of which path the curious character might take. He shows a number of so-called warning signs of a person who might shoot up a school or a grocery store: He is a loner, he possesses an above average intelligence, he has a proclivity for violence in terms of ideation and media consumption, and he listens to extremist right-wing rhetoric—“so-called” because I do not believe any of these factors, singular or in combination, necessarily lead to violence.

The subject is named Antoine and he is played by newcomer Matthieu Lucci, whose future is so bright should he wish to pursue more challenging roles as he so willingly tackles here. I found that his choices are fresh, particularly in how he portrays Antoine who thinks he is already a man but, in actuality, he is only a boy. Lucci commands great intensity when required and he is readily able to exude warmth at a moment’s notice. Notice how he interacts with adults, especially those who have some sort of power, versus his peers and children. Here is a performer with the potential to make a career of pretending to be someone else. He finds subtleties in his character’s frustration and anger.

The strongest moments in the film involve a successful novelist named Olivia (Marina Foïs) leading a group of diverse teenagers to brainstorm what sort of thriller they should write during the summer. Every single participant commands a distinct personality; even the quieter ones have something important or insightful to say, whether it terms of their group dynamics (sometimes they disagree to the point of physical confrontation about to break out) or the story they attempt to write.

It is so rare, especially in mainstream American films, to show teenagers as they are—flawed, challenging, contradictory, full of vitality—instead of some Hollywood idea, a fantasy of how teenagers ought to think, or act, or talk. Due to the screenplay’s sharply drawn characters, I enjoyed their fierce clashes as well as their unity. Each one has a reason for attending the writing workshop. Most importantly, by sitting in their sessions, we come to understand why the members choose to return for the next meeting even when the previous session may have been awkward, uncomfortable, or downright ugly.

But the main push of the plot involves the instructor’s suspicion that one of her students, Antoine, is a bomb waiting to go off. Although still quite solid, particularly with regards to the author being attracted to fear and threat of violence, I found her investigation to be less interesting than Antoine’s moments of isolation. Lucci communicates so much by simply looking at a distance or the way his body language changes when Antoine senses lies. I think the two would have been more interesting together if the material had further explored the twisted attraction between them. There must be a reason why Antoine follows and spies on his instructor. No, it is not due to a sexual nature. I think it is because, finally, someone recognizes his potential. Look at his family and friends. No one engages him on his ideas.

Some viewers will take one look at Antoine and label him as a young extremist. Although unfair, that’s the kind of world we live in—and I believe that’s the point the film attempts to make, how we are built to judge based on patterns that fit—or at least seem to fit. It has been a while since I have encountered a project that deals so intelligently with a misunderstood young person.


Polisse (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A little girl, about six years of age, tells one of the cops that her father “scratches” her “bottom” every night. In the other room, a grandfather is questioned about taking advantage of his granddaughter who’s within a few feet from him. Meanwhile, en route to the police station, a teenager is asked about her role involving the three guys she invited in the garage and the rape of her friend. These are all part of a day’s work in the Child Protection Unit of Paris Police.

“Polisse,” based on the screenplay by Maïwenn and Emmanuelle Bercot, explores the psychology of the cops within the unit by putting a magnifying glass on how they handle themselves when immersed in their assigned operations and how well they manage the stresses in their personal lives. The picture constructs an argument that it takes a great deal of effort to keep the two spheres separate. First, even if they are successful in putting the person, or persons, responsible in jail and closing a case, the deed is done and the underaged child or young adult has to deal with the trauma that comes with being abused. The cops are aware that it’s rare for survivors to move on with their lives unscathed. Second, although the cops are good at what they do, catching and taking all perpetrators to jail is close to impossible. Child abuse is a disease without a cure.

One of the film’s recurring themes is power struggle. Cases involving rape are the most obvious examples. However, notice the instances when the cops interact with one another, whether it be in the cafeteria during lunch hour or hanging out and playing games like charades. In heated conversations, sometimes turning into arguments, there always has to be someone who is told that they are wrong which implies that someone has to be right; in games, as the winning group celebrates in ecstasy, the losing group basks in quiet disappointment and frustration. Power struggle can also be observed in young people choosing to “exercise” their freedom. One of the most shocking examples is the girl who strips all of her clothing via webcam and broadcasts it online because she is told by her parent that her internet usage will soon be limited.

The realities the picture shows are scary and yet so unbelievable at times that there are moments when all I, as well as the characters, could do was laugh. The teenage girl who decides to give fellatio to random guys because she had wanted to get her phone back from them quickly comes to mind. And what about that mother who sees absolutely nothing wrong with giving her kid, who must be about four years old, a hand job to calm him at night so that she will not have to deal with his crying? The cops, aghast from the confession, tells her that what she has done is rape, leaving the mother looking very surprised, even offended. It turns out that her definition of rape is “penetration.”

The screenplay should be appreciated for not being afraid to get down on the ugly details. What may appear stupid or common sense to you and me is perhaps a shining revelation to others. In that sense, the picture informs, in a genuine manner, instead of just functioning as a reminder that the world is plagued with all sorts of sickness.

Directed by Maïwenn, “Polisse” is often an unrelenting experience. While it may be criticized for including scenes that ought be left on the cutting room floor about the characters as individuals and group of professionals, I admired it for the exactly that reason. None of the issues touched upon in the film is supposed to be neat or meant to be understood completely. By the end, we can actually feel the dirtiness of the job and appreciate those who continue to perform it.