French classroom film lifts gloom as Cannes closes

Sat May 24, 2008 6:18pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White and James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - A classroom drama set in a tough Parisian school lifted the gloom in Cannes, giving the world's biggest film festival a much-needed boost after critics panned many of the main competition entries.

It was better late than never for the annual movie marathon, with "Entre Les Murs" ("The Class") screening on the penultimate day of the festival.

Loud applause and cheers after the movie was shown placed it among the favorites to win the coveted Palme d'Or for best film when Sean Penn and his eight fellow jurors hand out the awards at a glittering evening ceremony on Sunday.

The ceremony wraps up 12 days of films, interviews, red carpets and late night revelry in the Riviera resort. In town this year were Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Clint Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford.

"The Class" is directed by Laurent Cantet and is based on an autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau who plays himself as a young French teacher facing a sometimes rebellious class.

Shot in a "fly-on-the-wall" style, the film is at times comic, tragic and surprisingly tense and explores themes including race, the generation gap, truth and prejudice.

Before The Class, critics in Cannes had been underwhelmed by the overall standard of the 22 films in competition, with one mumbling that you could hear "the barrel being scraped" by organizers trying to fill the program.

Nonetheless there were some highlights, notably "Waltz With Bashir," an Israeli animated documentary exploring a draftee's memories of the 1982 massacre of Palestinians living in Beirut's Sabra and Shatila camps.   Continued...

<p>French director Philippe Garrel (C) raises his fist as he arrives on the red carpet with cast members Clementine Poidatz (L), Laura Smet (2nd L) and his son Louis Garrel (3rd L), who waves before the screening of "La Frontiere de l'Aube" at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard</p>