Cantet's 'Class' wins Cannes' Palme d'Or

'Gomorra' takes Grand Prix; jury prize to 'Il Divo'

CANNES -- French director Laurent Cantet proved that last is certainly not least when his doculike fiction "The Class" ("Entre les Murs") won the Palme d'Or after screening on the last day of the Festival de Cannes. The win was the first Palme d'Or for a French title since 1987.

Based on an autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau, who also plays himself as a French teacher, the realistic film stars real teachers and pupils in a rough Parisian neighborhood high school. Although "The Class" screened on the last day of Competition at the festival, the film received high marks across the board from international critics and audiences.

Robert De Niro, who stars in Barry Levinson's "What Just Happened?" -- the closing-night film -- presented Cantet, Begaudeau and all 25 students who star in the film with the prize at the traditional ceremony at the Palais des Festivals.

"It is ironic that tonight's closing-night film is 'What Just Happened?' because when we announce the prizes, many of you will say, 'What just happened?' And that's how it should be," jury president Sean Penn said before presenting the awards. His words rang true as the list of mostly surprising winners unspooled.

Roman Polanski presented the Grand Prix to Matteo Garrone's "Gomorra," a harrowing exploration of organized crime in Naples.

The jury prize went to "Il Divo," Paolo Sorrentino's caricature-style tale of seven-time Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan was named best director for his film "Three Monkeys."

"I would like to dedicate the prize to my lonely and beautiful country, which I love passionately," Ceylan said.

In additional to the traditional prizes, Penn's jury chose to bestow two special prizes acknowledging the work of French actress Catherine Deneuve and American director Clint Eastwood.

"In this very peculiar place of trying to focus acknowledgment in a field of such powerful work, there are special awards sometimes that are simply acknowledging a piece of work or a body of work," Penn said before presenting the awards. "For the special prize of the 61st Cannes, there are two people that we have to acknowledge: Catherine Deneuve and Clint Eastwood."

Benicio del Toro's portrayal of Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh's two-part, four-hour-plus biopic of the Latin American revolutionary figure earned him the best actor award.

"I'd like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara," del Toro said upon accepting the award. "I want to thank Cannes, I want to thank the jury, and I also want to thank and share this with director Steven Soderbergh, who got up every day, forced me to do this. He was there pushing it and pushed all of us."

French actor Jean Reno took the stage for the announcement of the prize for best actress, which went to Sandra Corveloni for her role in Walter Salles' and Daniela Thomas' Brazilian drama "Linha de Passe." The actress was not present at the ceremony.

Last year's best screenplay award-winner, Fatih Akin, handed off this year's prize to three-time Palme d'Or-winning Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for their drama about a young Albanian woman in Belgium, "Lorna's Silence."

Steve McQueen's "Hunger" was awarded the Camera d'Or prize, given to the best first film in selection.

The awards were handed out at a gala ceremony presided by master of ceremonies French comedian Edouard Baer. They took place ahead of a screening of Levinson's film starring De Niro alongside Catherine Keener and self-parodying appearances from Cannes jury president Sean Penn and Bruce Willis. Art imitated life as a film-within-a-film plot saw the fictional film in "What Just Happened?" playing at Cannes as real-life festival crowds watched on the large Palais screen.

Guests then headed to a closing-night dinner and cocktail in the Palais Salon des Ambassadeurs followed by a night of dancing at the Majestic beach.