ROME (Reuters) - While France hailed the triumph of one of its own at the Cannes film festival, Italy was also celebrating the rebirth of its cinema after scooping two top prizes at the world's biggest film competition.
"Gomorrah," a hard-hitting film about the Naples' mafia, and "Il Divo" -- a satire on the life of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti -- won the second and third prizes respectively, earning critical acclaim both at home and abroad.
The awards were a welcome boost for Italian cinema, which has gone through a wave of soul-searching in recent years for lack of memorable titles -- and has often been described as being in a state of decline.
The prizes to the two domestic entries in the main competition made front-page headlines in Italy on Monday, all but eclipsing the winner of the Palme D'Or, "Entre Les Murs" (The Class) by French director Laurent Cantet.
"If there is a real winner of this edition, then it is Italian cinema," said Paolo Mereghetti, a veteran film critic for daily Corriere della Sera.
"It was important to convince the international public -- which is the strength of Cannes -- that our cinema is again flying high," he said.
The tone could not have been more different from last year, when Italian films were left out of the main contest in Cannes, and American director Quentin Tarantino called Italian cinema depressing.
"Recent films I've seen are all the same. They talk about boys growing up, or girls growing up, or couples having a crisis, or vacations of the mentally impaired," Tarantino said in an interview last June.
This time, critics said Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah and Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo had convinced by taking a fresh and original look at topical themes -- mafia and political corruption -- prompting one commentator to quip that "Italy is washing its dirty linen on the Croisette."
"In an industry that seemed to be fading ... suddenly two directors who have yet to turn 40 have shown that a new generation of film-makers is born looking at our country's reality, its shadows and shames, without fear," wrote Natalia Aspesi, who covered the festival for La Repubblica newspaper.
Even Andreotti, who had criticized Sorrentino's film for portraying him in a bad light, put on a brave face when asked whether he was happy it had won a prize.
"If I could take a share of the profits I'd be even happier," said Andreotti, who has been part of Italy's political establishment since 1947.
Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Jon Boyle