18 July, 2008
by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor
The winner of this year’s Cannes Film Festival’s most prestigious award, the Palme d’Or, will open the 46th edition of the New York Film Festival (NYFF), one of the most important film showcases in North America.
The Class (Entres Les Murs), a gritty but very human story of the dysfunctional French education system, won the top prize at Cannes for its director Laurent Cantet. Three of Cantet's four features have played in programs at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, which presents NYFF, including Human Resources at the 2000 New Directors/New Films series, Time Out at the 2001 New York Film Festival and Heading South at the annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema program at the Walter Reade Theater, the Society’s flagship cinema.
The Class is the fourth Palme d'Or film to open the fest, following Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000), Mike Leigh’s Secrets And Lies (1996) and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). The film, about high school teachers and students at an interracial inner city school, marked the first time that a French film had taken the Palme d’Or honor since 1987’s Under The Sun of Satan.
Arthouse powerhouse Sony Pictures Classics, a “classics division” of Sony Pictures, picked up the rights to the film after Cannes. The Class has been praised for its neo-documentary feel and the intensity of the acting and script. Although it snagged Cannes’ top honor, the film was not immediately picked up at the Festival, but took many weeks for a deal to be secured with Sony Pictures Classics (at far less than the Cannes asking price). “The film is great and deserves to be seen”, one veteran American distributor shared with me. “But it is a tough film to market to an audience…..the key will be how to interest American audiences in a tough film that is not a classic French love story.”
The New York Film Festival has also announced two special showcases to run parallel to the main programming event. In The Realm of Nashima will feature an exhaustive survey of the work of one of Japan’s most controversial directors. Views from the Avant Garde, an ambitious program that checks the pulse of contemporary video and media arts, will offer a 30th anniversary presentation of French director Guy Debord's underground classic We Spin Around the Night Consumed by the Fire. The New York Film Festival opens on September 26and runs until October 12. For more information on the Festival and other Film Society programs, log on to their website.