May 26, 2008 / 5:48 PM / 9 years ago

Classmates give hero's welcome to Cannes winners

<p>French director Laurent Cantet (R) poses for photographers surrounded by students holding the Palme d'Or award for their film "Entre les Murs (The Class)" during the award ceremony at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>

PARIS (Reuters) - Flush with glory but shrugging off stardom for now, the teenage actors who triumphed at the Cannes film festival came back to school on Monday to a hero’s welcome.

The amateur cast of classroom drama “Entre les Murs” (The Class), crowded the stage in Cannes when their film won the top award on Sunday, sharing the limelight with the likes of Robert De Niro, Sean Penn and Catherine Deneuve.

After an overnight bus from the French Riviera, they arrived back to their inner city school on the fringes of Paris on Monday afternoon to be mobbed by schoolmates and reporters.

“I‘m so excited, there are so many people. It’s bizarre,” said young actor Franck Keita as he stepped off the coach to huge cheers and applause.

Teachers and students waved from classroom windows as a crush of television crews and balloon-carrying fans temporarily blocked the busy street where the documentary-style film about life in a tough Paris school was shot last summer.

“We knew there would be a prize when (the judges) asked the students to stay for the awards ceremony, but no one expected the Palme d‘Or,” said school principal Jean-Claude Defaux, who applauded the film for its realism.

<p>French director Laurent Cantet (L) is surrounded by students as he holds the Palme d'Or award for his film "Entre les Murs (The Class)" during the award ceremony at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>

It was the first time a French film had won Cannes’ coveted top prize in 21 years, and came at a time when the problems in the country’s often crowded classrooms have been highlighted by massive teacher and student protests.

Hailed as an insider’s look at France’s difficult “priority education zones,” or ZEP, the film touches on many of the issues shaking modern French society, including immigration, ethnic integration and scholastic under-achievement.

“This school doesn’t have the best image since it is in a ZEP. But the film is great for us because it shows both the positive and negative sides,” said Alice Babin, 14, a student at the now famous Francoise Dolto junior high school.

Giselle Levy, the school’s academic counselor, said the new-found fame might make her job difficult when it comes to planning for the students’ future.

“We hope they can get back on their feet as soon as possible but at the same time they have to enjoy this moment,” she said.

“I hope after an experience like that, they won’t all have illusions -- they have final exams in 15 days.”

Young actor Carl Nanor agreed: “One shouldn’t get carried away. All the same, I consider myself an actor, but not a star.”

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Richard Meares

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