Cannes closes on last-minute high for French film

Mon May 26, 2008 6:07am EDT
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By Mike Collett-White and James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - Critics hailed the first French victory at the Cannes film festival for 21 years, after the acclaimed classroom drama "Entre Les Murs" (The Class) won the Palme d'Or for best picture late on Sunday.

The triumph marked another high point for French cinema, which has already celebrated a rare best actress Oscar for Marion Cotillard and a home-made box office hit "Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis," seen by about 20 million people.

Screen legend Catherine Deneuve won a special prize along with Clint Eastwood before the festival wound up and hundreds of journalists and industry executives left for home on Monday.

This year's festival had the usual blend of Hollywood glamour and hard-hitting independent cinema and, while studios were less willing to splash out in the expensive Riviera resort, there was plenty of late-night revelry despite unseasonal rain.

Big names such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro, Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford, as well as sports stars Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona trod the famous red carpet this year.

"The Class" is a naturalistic portrayal of a tough Parisian high school where a teacher battles to maintain discipline, and touches on hot issues in France such as overcrowded classes and immigrant youth, although the film is not overtly political.

The last-minute entry, shown at the very end of the competition, captivated audiences.

"I can never remember a clearer winner," said Mark Cousins, a film critic and Cannes veteran, adding that "The Class" had helped rescue an otherwise generally flat competition.   Continued...

<p>French director Laurent Cantet (C) is surrounded by students during a photocall after he received the Palme d'Or award for the film "Entre les Murs (The Class)" at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 25, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>