Laurent Cantet wins Cannes Film Festival 2008

May 26, 2008 at 1:17 am

French director Laurent Cantet has won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival for Entre les murs/The Class, a film based on a book by François Bégaudeau.

Being based in Paris these days, I can certainly say this was totally unexpected for the French. The other film in competition, Arnaud Desplechin’s Un conte de Noël, is widely covered, its group of actors are on the front pages of every possible magazine, and the film is already playing at cinemas everywhere. The coverage for Entre les murs, on the contrary, was a low key affair throughout, with a few interviews here and there and in a subdued tone in the overall, as the film screened last at Cannes and was not expected to leave a particular mark (beyond the generally good impression that the cinema of Canted normally enjoys). It may also be that the French, after having awarded scores of Cesars to Abdellatif Kechice’s L’Esquive/Games of Love and Chance a few years ago, may be tired of classroom films. As I write this on the day after the Festival closed, the imdb entry for the film is incomplete, and the Wikipedia article about the book on which it is based is only two lines long. This will certainly change very quickly.

Here is a clip from the film.

In the French tradition of ‘auteurs’, Cantet has built up a solid even if not ‘hot’ reputation over the years, and one can certainly say he is one of the most robust and level-headed filmmakers working today in the vein of the classical realist tradition. His ‘method’ has already been the subject of a scholarly investigation(Pour une méthode d’investigation du cinéma de Laurent Cantet). His first international success, Ressources humaines/Human Resources(1999), was extremely well-received and even though it dealt with the seemingly most prosaic subject matter — the intricate politics between employees within an organization — it was reviewed as highly original and unexpected; no wonder as it is one of the rare contemporary films to tackle head on the world of work. This is still my favorite among his films. It was followed by L’emploi du temps/Time Out(2001), based on the true story of a man who had lost his job but who felt uncomfortable telling his family and cheated on them for a long time by continuing to pretend he was crossing into nearby Switzerland for his job while gradually suffocating in a web of financial swindles. A very fine portrayal of the contradictory reaction of a weak person confronting a difficult situation. More recently, Cantet continued exploring complex human relationships, this time of subtle exploitation, in Vers le sud/Heading South(2005), his most wiedly distributed film starring Charlotte Rampling. It is an investigation into transnational sex tourism involving vulnerable young Haitians, an allegory of the not so subtle exploitation that generally marks the interactions between the global North and South.

Cantet’s earlier, The Sanguinaires (1997), a study of the family dynamics’ over a summer spent on a small island, is available on VHS.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Turkish cineaste to whom I dedicated a post on 14 May 2008, has won the award for best director. Click here to read it.

© Dina Iordanova
26 May 2008