A surprise, but for a change, a nice one: Laurent Cantet’s “Entre les murs,” a pedagogical fiction based on a novel by a French schoolteacher (Francois Begaudeau, who plays himself), has won the Palme d’or of the 61st Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first French film to win in 21 years. (It was Maurice Pialat’s “Under the Sun of Satan” the last time, and I can still hear the booing and hissing that broke out in the Palais. “If you don’t like me,” said the ever diplomatic Pialat, “Then allow me to say that I don’t like you, either.”)
I admired Cantet’s “Human Resources” and “Time Out,” though his “Heading South” seemed a bit of a misstep. A Palm should help him find a distributor for the US, though “Entre les murs” sounds like exactly the kind of precisely observed social drama that the French seem to be excelling at right now (as in Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Le Graine et le mulet”) and that the American art house audience has firmly rejected (too many poor people, not enough elegant adultery).
Le Grand prix du Festival, aka second place, went to Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorra,” an adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s very strong book about the pervasive corruption that continues to reign in Naples. Benicio Del Toro won best actor, as expected, for “Che” (though he will have to go a way to beat Omar Sharif’s performance in Richard Fleischer’s 1969 version), and the best actress award went to first-timer Sandra Corveloni for her portrayal of a working class mother in “Linha de passe” by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas. Do you get the feeling that Sean Penn was the president of the jury?
The brothers Dardenne took home the screenplay award for “Le Silence de Lorna,” and Nuri Bilge Ceylan was named best director for his “The Three Monkeys,” a film that seemed to have few if any passionate supporters among the press. The Camera d’or, for best first or second film, went to Steve McQueen for his IRA prison drama “Hunger,” and the jury prize went to “Il Divo,” an unflattering portrait of the Italian politician Giulio Andreotti directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Catherine Deneuve and Clint Eastwood both received awards for showing up — or rather, the “Special Prize of the 61st Festival for the ensemble of their careers.” For the highly touted Israeli animated film “Waltz with Bachir”: bupkus.