Cannes, May 28: 'The Class', (Entre les Murs) by Laurent Cantet carried away the prestigious 'Palme d' Or' becoming the first French film to win the top award at Cannes since 'Under Satan's Sun' in 1987.
The film was screened on the last day of the festival. The jury's decision was unanimous and was enthusiastically received by both the audience and the critics. It is based on the autobiographical memoirs of Francois Begaudeau, who plays himself in the lead role of a French teacher in a suburban high school. The film stars real students and 25 of them trooped on to the stage along with Begaudeau to collect the award from Robert De Niro at the closing night ceremony.
The film, an evocation of contemporary society as seen through a year's events in a classroom, is a powerful work about race, language, adolescence and justice. It was able to cross borders and appeal to all nationalities and age groups.
Chairman of the Jury Sean Penn described it as a virtually seamless film with magic in its writing, performances, generosity and provocations. The timelessness of the issues linked to the search for a good education touched them all; the Jury, the critics and the audience.
The selection of 'The Class' for the top award put an end to several theories propounded on the Croissette.
Walter Salles' war animation feature 'Waltz with Bashir', did not win an award despite a strong buzz forecasting an award for it. When questioned on its absence from the list of winners, Sean Penn said, "I am happy to find out that buzzes mean nothing, the jury was entirely not influenced." He agreed that it was a wonderful film as were several others that did not win.
It is commonly believed the last day's screenings are reserved for the add-ons. The Market delegates among others do not find it worthwhile to stay on for the last weekend of the festival. But the new Delegate General Thierry Fremaux pulled a surprise by programming a potential winner on the last day. This should change attitudes for the future.
After being accused of selling out to Hollywood by including films like 'The Da Vinci Code' last year, the Cannes top award has, for the second consecutive year, gone to a socially relevant film with contemporary values. Last year's Romanian abortion drama '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,' and this year's 'The Class,'a story of education and integration in modern day Paris are giving a clear message that the Cannes award is not a sell out.
The other awards given this year also, all went to socially relevant weighty meaningful films. These include the runner up award, the Grand Prix to 'Gomorrah', Italian director Matteo Garrone's expose of organised crime in Naples.
Award for the best director went to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for 'Three Monkeys', an intense drama of a family pulled apart by crime and suspicion. The Jury award which went to 'Il Divo,' Paolo Sorrentino's look at seven times Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti.
The acting award was given to Benico Del Taro for his portrayal of Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's 'Che', a four-hour-long biopic on the Latin American revolutionary. The best actress award was given to Sandra Sorvelon for the role of a single mother to four boys in Walter Salles' coming of age film' Linha De Pass.' Finally, Jean Pierre and Luc Dar Denne took the best screenplay award for 'Le Silence De Lorna', the story of a young female immigrant in Belgium under pressure to marry a stranger to help him migrate.
Steve Mcqueen's directorial debut 'Hunger' was awarded the 'Camera d' Or'. The Jury, when awarding the films this year, were exceptionally consistent and did not lose focus or compromise.
In addition to the traditional awards, the jury gave away two special awards to Catherine Deneuve and Clint Eastwood acknowledging their work and contribution to cinema. Sean Penn said at the press conference, "it would be so artificial to not acknowledge them and the weight that their work and their presence has brought to this festivel