CANNES: Robert De Niro had the honors of bestowing the 61st Festival de Cannes Palme d’Or Award on The Class by Laurent Cantet. This is the first time a French film has won the Palme d’Or since Sous le Soleil de Satan by Maurice Pialat in 1987.
Cantet said, "I have many people to thank. First of all, the members of the Jury: I’m both very moved and very happy to know that the film succeeded in touching them – unanimously, to boot. Thank you very much. Naturally, I must thank Gilles Jacob, Thierry Frémaux, and the whole Festival team for inviting this film. I’m also thinking very gratefully of my producers, Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta, and Barbara Letellier, as well as Laurence Petit, who is distributing the film. All this is the product of ten or twelve years of work together, in the course of which we have forged a real bond of friendship and loyalty. Here, on this night, all together, we’re sharing an intense experience. Lately, the film business has not been especially open to making films that are slightly offbeat. It has become very difficult. Paradoxically, this film was made in a way that was… ideal. I read François Bégaudeau’s book, and the whole process flowed from that point almost naturally. We were supported by a sort of state of grace throughout the production phase, from the auditions, where I met all these young people, through the writing of the film, borne along by encouraging signs that proved to be right, through the editing. Though I’m capable of sinking into the depths of darkest doubt at times, with this film there was a sort of lightness, due to the energy and strength of all the people with me here, who are born actors, just terrific. The film we wanted to make was supposed to look like French society: multi-faceted, lively, and complex, with conflicts that the film was not going to try to gloss over. I hope that’s what the film looks like, and that we didn’t get it wrong. Thank you very much!"
Cantet added, "I’m not all that surprised. Talking about school interests the whole world. The issues are pretty much the same, no matter what country you’re talking about. Children go to school to learn something, but also so they’ll grow up to be responsible adults, citizens. During the screenings, we sensed that the story was told in a sharable way. A foreign audience got into the film about as directly as the French audience. The discussions we were able to have with people after they’d seen the film confirmed my belief. It was a great source of delight to me, without being that much of a surprise… This film is also intended for people who don’t know what school is like, who haven’t set foot inside a school for a very long time, like most of us. Nevertheless, they have a set of unwavering opinions and prejudices about teaching, school, and the young people today, who are often portrayed as imbeciles. I hope the film does justice to young people, as well as doing justice to all the work that goes on inside the walls of a school."