Sunday, May 25, 2008

Cantet's 'Class' takes Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival 2008 has concluded with resounding applause after what many initially thought to be weak if not depressed artistic standards, and was proven wrong with evovative films well worthy of the Cannes designation for the world's most renown cinematic exposition.

Canne 2008 Palme d'Or Awarded
Laurent Cantet's "The Class" (Entre les murs), an evocation of contemporary society as seen through a year's worth of events in a Paris junior high school, won the Palme d'Or of the 61st Cannes Film Festival. It is the first French film to cop the festival’s top prize since "Under Satan's Sun" 20 years ago.

PALME D'OR"The Class"
SPECIAL PRIZE OF THE 61ST CANNES FESTIVALCatherine Deneuve ("A Christmas Tale") and Clint Eastwood ("Changeling")
DIRECTORNuri Bilge Ceylan, "Three Monkeys"
ACTORBenicio Del Toro, "Che"
ACTRESSSandra Corveloni, "Linha de passe"
SCREENPLAYJean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, "Lorna's Silence"

CANNES, France: At the closing ceremony Sunday of the 61st Cannes film festival, the red carpet was overrun by teenagers, the young stars of the Palme d'Or winner, "The Class" ("Entre les Murs").
Directed by Laurent Cantet, the film follows a year in the life of a French schoolteacher working in a tough multi-cultural section of Paris. Based on a best-selling autobiographical novel by François Begaudeau, who plays the main character, "The Class" is brought alive by the performances of the non-professional actors playing the students.
Cantet brought them onstage with him to accept the prize, and they brought the entire Palais des Festivals to its feet. The president of the jury, Sean Penn, said that the award for "The Class" was one of two unanimous verdicts.

The other was the prize for best actor, given to Benicio Del Toro, who played the title in Steven Soderbergh's "Che." (photo, l.).
Other winners included Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time Palme d'Or recipients, who took the screenplay award for "The Silence of Lorna," about the struggles of a young Albanian immigrant in Belgium. Sandra Corveloni, who played a working-class mother in São Paulo in Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas's "Linha de Passe," won the best actress award, which the directors accepted on her behalf.
The directing award went to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for "Three Monkeys," a film about a disintegrating Turkish family. Both the jury prize and the grand prix - second and first runner up, as it were - went to Italian films: the jury prize to "Il Divo," Paolo Sorrentino's highly stylized portrait of former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti and the grand prix to Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah," a brutally realistic examination of organized crime in Naples.

The Caméra d'Or for best first feature, awarded by a separate jury (headed by French director Bruno Dumont), went to Steve McQueen's "Hunger," which unsparingly depicts the protests of imprisoned IRA militants in the 1980s.

Continuing a Cannes tradition of improvisation, the jury conferred two special prizes, which Penn described as a combination of a lifetime achievement award and an acknowledgment of bold new work. The winners were Catherine Deneuve (born in 1943) and Clint Eastwood (born in 1930).
Deneuve, who appears in "A Christmas Tale," accepted her award. Eastwood, whose competition entry, "The Changeling" was expected by many to win a top prize, was absent.
The exuberance of Cantet's young cast brought to a rousing finish a festival that had started on a somewhat downbeat note, particularly for Americans concerned about the uncertain box office for foreign-language films and an ever-weakening dollar. Still, despite the gloomy chatter on the streets and in the trades, American distributors had, by the end of the festival, bought some of the most interesting films in and out of competition.
The venturesome IFC Films picked up three titles: "A Christmas Tale," "Hunger" and "The Chaser" a violent Korean thriller about a serial killer. Sony Pictures Classics confirmed that it also had bought three movies: "The Silence of Lorna"; "Waltz with Bashir" by the Israeli director Ari Folman, an animated documentary about the veterans of the 1982 war in Lebanon; and the Norwegian film "O' Horten," from Bent Hamer ("Kitchen Stories," "Factotum").
Sony Classics is also rumored to be going after James Toback's documentary "Tyson," a sympathetic portrait of the former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
"We kept telling ourselves," wrote Michael Barker, co-president of the company, "and were being told by everyone else what a weak Cannes this has been until we woke up one morning and realized that this could shape up to be the best Cannes we ever had. The sleepless nights this year did not come from the parties, they came from debate over merits of films (with colleagues, journalists, exhibitors, people on the street) and images from the films themselves that we could not shake."
The most passionately debated movie of the festival, however, Soderbergh's "Che" had yet to find an American distributor by Sunday evening. The four and a half hour portrait of Ernesto Guevara, the Argentine doctor who became a leader of the Cuban revolution, sharply divided the critics, whose support will be crucial to its chances. Similarly no American buyers had yet materialized for two other highly anticipated U.S. films, Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York," (Samantha Morton and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, photo, r.) and James Gray's "Two Lovers," both of which also received mixed verdicts from the critics and were passed over by the jury. It is nearly certain that those films, with their Oscar-pedigree casts - del Toro in "Che," Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in "Synecdoche," Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow in "Two Lovers" - will make their way into American theaters some time in the future. The question is whether the increasingly cautious major studios and their specialty divisions will take on the challenge of marketing them to an audience glutted with entertainment choices or whether the task will fall to smaller, leaner independent distributors.
In recent years, some of the studios' art-house subsidiaries have been moving away from acquisition toward financing and production. For them, leaving Cannes empty-handed was not necessarily a sign that business was slow. James Schamus, the president of Focus Features, a division of Universal Pictures, summed up his festival in a succinct e-mail message: "Sold everything; bought nothing."
For the critics and the industry, this was perhaps not a festival of revelations but rather 12 days of solid, diverse work with inevitable disappointments balanced by some very fine selections.
As usual, many movies in and out of competition dealt with the social and political problems: crime, poverty, disease, incarceration and war, with a little pornography and family dysfunction to lighten the mood. Also notable were the number of aesthetically and technically innovative works shot in digital.
Although the results can sometimes look like smeared mud (see the competition entry from Singapore "My Magic"), the new technologies mean that a movie can something completely new (the startlingly sharp lines of Jia Zhang-ke's "24 City) or very much like old-fashioned celluloid ("Che"). Soderbergh shot that movie on a new high-definition, 10-pound camera (the RED) that afforded him extraordinarily fluidity in difficult terrain.
The prize for Un Certain Regard was given over to the critical and popular favorite, "Tulpan," the first fiction feature from the well-regarded Kazakh documentary director Sergey Dvortsevoy. The jury, headed by Fatih Akin (whose "The Edge of Heaven" was here last year), handed out several additional honors, some fancifully named. Toback picked up a so-called KnockOut Prize for "Tyson" and Germany's Andreas Dresen earned the One-From-the-Heart Award for "Cloud 9" (about a love affair between two senior citizens). Of course, it would not a Cannes Film Festival without a prize for Romania, a country that produced the Palme d'Or winner last year, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." This year made it two palms in a row, when the top prize for best short film was given to Marian Crisan's "Megatron." As they say in Bucharest, "Foarte bine" - or here in France, "c'est super-cool."

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