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French Film Soars at Cannes Film Festival

Jun 18, 2008
The Cannes Film Festival is over for another year. The votes have been tallied, the red carpet was rolled up, and the world's beautiful people have gone back to looking like the rest of us, or so we can dream. The 61st annual festival drew the eyes of the film industry and movie buffs alike across the pond to France, if only for 10 short days.

At the top of this year's festival was the French film entitled "The Class," a real-life depiction of life at a junior high school. It took home the Palme D'or, the festival's biggest award.

It was the first French film to win the big prize since "Under Satan's Sun" won the prize in 1987. All of the festival's winners were selected by jury president Sean Penn and a nine-member jury including such Hollywood power players as Natalie Portman, all of whom voted for "The Class" to take home the Palme. The film was touted for its relevant social commentary and unconventional style.

Some other highlights of the prizes awarded include:

* Italian films by Matteo Garrone ("Gomorra") and Paolo Sorrentino ("Il Divo") took home the second- and third-place prizes.

* Benicio Del Toro took home best-actor honors for his role in "Che," Steven Soderbergh's epic about Che Guevara.

* Best actress accolades went to Sandra Corveloni for her role in "Linha de Passe," a film in which she plays a mother of four struggling to make ends meet in a Brazilian slum.

* Best director went to Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylon for the film "Three Monkeys," which is the story of a father who takes the fall for his employer's crime in order for financial security for his wife and son.

* Former two-time Palme D'or winners Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne received the screenplay prize for their film "Lorna's Silence," about an immigrant woman who gets married only to gain Belgian citizenship.

* British filmmaker Steve McQueen won the first-time director prize for his film "Hunger," a piece set in a prison in Northern Ireland where an IRA volunteer leads a hunger strike.

Another jury, the International Federation of Film Critics, awarded a special prize to film legend Clint Eastwood, who directed the competition film "The Exchange," starring Angelina Jolie. Eastwood has never taken home top honors at the festival despite having made five appearances since 1985.

A film from Kazakhstan entitled "Tulpan" won a lesser competition called "Un Certain Regard." "Tulpan" is a film about a shepherd who must wed before he can enter his trade, but his only prospect for marriage refuses him because of his large ears!

Other runner-up jury awards went to Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata," James Toback's documentary "Tyson," German director Andreas Dresen's "Cloud 9" and Jean-Stephane Sauvaire's "Johnny Mad Dog," about child soldiers in Africa.

In general, the festival judges found this year's films to be somewhat lacking, especially in comparison to last year's blockbuster hits like Joe and Ethan Coen's "No Country for Old Men," which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, proving that it attracted fans of both mainstream and unconventional films.

The festival closed out with the premiere of Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" starring Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis and Sean Penn in a story about a has-been Hollywood producer who tries to revitalize his career while dealing with issues in his personal and professional lives.

With the Cannes Film Festival now wrapped up, Hollywood's eyes are now turning toward Venice, where many U.S. films are expected to elbow out the competition on the Lido.

Hollywood heavyweights like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and John Malkovich will likely be there in support of the Coen brothers' film "Burn After Reading," and the stars of the film "Body of Lies," Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe will also likely make an appearance. Kiera Knightly and Ralph Fiennes, stars of "The Duchess," are also expected to make an appearance.
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