It’s a decision guaranteed to drive Jeffrey Wells to prose-sputtering fulmination: Laurent Cantet’s docudrama The Class has outmaneuvered Steven Soderbergh’s four-hour, two-part epic Che for the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. The Class was the final in-competition film to screen (often an advantageous position as far as the top awards are concerned), but its “multifaceted,… complex” (per Cantet) examination of French society via a junior high school sufficiently wowed the Sean Penn-led jury – which, like so many other festival juries, chose to spread the garlands around.
This was good news for Benicio Del Toro, whose highly-regarded portrayal of the bearded revolutionary snagged the Best Actor trophy (an award Penn took down back in 1997 for his wired performance in Nick Cassavetes’s She’s So Lovely). Also benefiting from the jury’s generosity was Sandra Corveloni, who won Best Actress for doing unspecified stuff in Walter Salles’s Linha de Passe (“unspecified” to me, since I don’t think much of Salles and therefore glanced over the respectful reviews).
The Grand Prize aka “Second Place” went to Matteo Garrone’s crime drama Gomorra (based on the book by Roberto Saviano), which Glenn Kenny deemed an “instant genre classic”. I figured the Dardennes’ Lorna’s Silence was a lock for the runner-up award, but the two-time Palme d’Or winners had to settle for the Screenplay trophy. Nuri Bilge Ceylan won Best Director for his well-reviewed Three Monkeys, while the Jury Prize went to Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo.
Finally, the Special Prize of the 61st Cannes Film Festival was split between Clint Eastwood’s Changeling and Catherine Deneuve’s A Christmas Tale. Lucretia Martel, whose La Mujer Sin Cabeza was considered a Palme d’Or front-runner pre-festival, came away wanting for plaudits.