French School Drama, with Amateur Actors, Wins Cannes Gold

CANNES, France ~ A French film about an inspired teacher in a tough urban school won the Palme d’Or top prize at Cannes, the first homegrown movie in 21 years to claim the coveted award.

The Class by 46-year-old director Laurent Cantet features a multicultural cast of amateur child actors plucked from French schools. It beat out 21 other contenders to claim the trophy.

“It is a microcosm of the world, where issues of equality or inequality play out,” Cantet said, flanked by more than a dozen of the Parisian pupils, as he accepted the trophy from actor Robert De Niro.

The Class is Cantet’s fourth feature and picks up on early themes in his work about social alienation.

The best actor prize went to Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro for his virtuoso performance as Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour-plus epic on the Latin American revolutionary hero.

Brazil’s Sandra Corveloni won the best actress prize for her turn as a pregnant single mother of four in Sao Paolo in Line of Passage.

The 43-year-old Corveloni, in her first feature film role in the movie co-directed by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, plays cleaning woman Clueza, whose sons battle against the odds to avoid falling into a life of crime.

Best director honours went to Turkey’s Nuri Bilge Ceylan, an arthouse favourite, for his searing, visually stunning family drama Three Monkeys.

The runner-up grand jury prize went to Italian anti-mafia drama Gomorrah, based on an international bestseller. Another film about corruption in Italy picked another award.

Lifetime achievement awards went to cinema veterans Catherine Deneuve of France and actor-director Clint Eastwood, who entered the competition this year with The Exchange, an ambitious drama starring Angelina Jolie as a single mother whose son is kidnapped.

Jury president Sean Penn selected the winners with a nine-member panel including actress Natalie Portman and Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron.

He said the prize for The Class had been a unanimous decision “for an amazing, amazing film.”

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