The French film The Class takes top honor and Clint Eastwood's Changeling stands out in a mostly disappointing year

By Leah Rozen
Updated May 26, 2008 09:00 AM

The dollar wasn’t the only thing hurting at this year’s disappointing Cannes Film Festival, which wrapped on Sunday with the festival’s highest honor, the Palme d’Or, being awarded to the French film, The Class. (See a full list of winners.)

This year’s main competition, featuring 22 films (including four by American directors), was generally considered a less than thrilling year, with only a few outstanding films, including Clint Eastwood’s Changeling, and a couple outright stinkers.

The Class, directed by Laurent Cantet (Heading South), is based on a real life memoir about a dedicated teacher instructing a multi-cultural mix of students in a school in Paris. In picking the film for Cannes’ top prize, jury foreman Sean Penn and his fellow jurors (including Natalie Portman) opted for a movie dealing with contemporary societal issues – just as Penn had said he would at an opening day press conference – over artier or more commercial fare.

Only two Hollywood notables took home prizes: Benicio Del Toro collected a Best Actor award for playing Communist revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Che, and director Clint Eastwood, whose period drama Changeling showed at Cannes, was given a special lifetime achievement award.

Other highlights and lowlights from Cannes:

• Clint Eastwood impressed with Changeling, a powerful drama based on a true story about a mother (vehemently played by Angelina Jolie) whose young son disappears from her Los Angeles home in 1928. When the police return him months later, she insists the boy is not her son. The film gradually broadens to cover a wide canvas (police and government corruption) but without sacrificing its intimate focus on one mother’s determination to find her child. The film is expected to open in late fall.

• After a couple of recent misses, Woody Allen returned to winning form again with his out-of-competition entry, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a delightful soufflé. Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall play Americans visiting Barcelona who become romantically involved with a Spanish artist (Javier Bardem). Penélope Cruz, playing the painter’s tempestuous ex-wife, steals the movie with a hilarious performance sure to be remembered at Oscar time next year. Vicky is due in theaters at the end of August.

• Director Steven Soderbergh may have to go back to the editing room with Che, his trying look at Guevara, the Argentinean doctor who helped lead the Cuban revolution. The version screened at Cannes has two seperate parts and lasts well over a posterior-testing four hours. Del Toro won the top acting prize, though Soderbergh has shot him in such a way that the star had to do much of his acting with his back to viewers or standing off in the distance. The film sharply divided critics – I think it plods along like an army training film – and has yet to land a U.S. distribution deal.

• The year’s biggest stinker was Service, a Filipino drama that had critics and audiences scratching their heads and asking, “What the heck is this doing at Cannes?” A tedious tale about a dysfunctional family operating a soft-core porn theater, the move featured a new low for obvious cinematic symbolism: repeated close-ups of a festering boil on a character’s rear end and of seeping sewage clogging a bathroom drain. Don’t expect to see this one at your local multiplex – ever.