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2 Award winners from the 2008 Cannes Film Festival

Wednesday April 22, 2009

Traveled down to The Charles to screen a double feature of 2 more critically acclaimed films that came out of last years Cannes:

"THE CLASS" *** (128 minutes)
Winner of the Palme d'Or, and nominated for The Academy's Best Foreign Film (it didn't win), this is a realistic portrayal of one year in the school life of a group of French lower middle-class group of teenagers.

The teacher, Francois Marin, tries his best to educate and control them using humor, understanding, and smarts. But, as we've seen in similar films, there are always those students who try to buck the system no matter how earnest the educators are to try and stop it.

Marin is played by real-life teacher and autobiographer, Francois Begaudeau, who co-wrote the script and the fact that he is a teacher in real life, lends a significant authenticity to the film. That and the fact that director Laurent Cantet ("Heading South") uses inexperienced teenagers (he worked with them for a year) as the students (they even use their actual first names for their characters) results in presenting a surreal, natural, documentary feel to the proceedings.

My main gripe is that the film is too long and a little stilted. I almost felt like I actually spent a whole year with these kids but, in the end, I admire what the filmmaker accomplished in presenting a film that will put you in this milieu like no other film like it.

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"GOMORRAH" ***1/2 (136 minutes)
Next up is director Matteo Garrone's exquisite expose on the Camorra crime syndicate in Naples & Caserta, Italy-which just happens to be larger than it's more well known, but actually less widespread cousin, The Mafia. Their yearly revenues are said to be in the neighborhood of $250 billion and, as stated in the epilogue, is even invested in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center!

Winner of the Grand Prix Award & the European Film Award (but, incredibly, ignored by The Academy), and based on the best selling book by Roberto Saviano, 6 screenwriters (including Saviano & Garonne) introduce 5 separate story lines in such a naturalistic and compelling way that, although it feels as if you watching 5 shorts dealing with the same comprehensive subject, each could easily have been full length films. The connecting, disturbing thread is how intricately the syndicate is involved in virtually every aspect of this society.

Instead of focusing on the top of this elaborate food chain, the stories focus on the underlings of the syndicate in which age is clearly not a prerequisite: from the innocent, angelic looking child who has taken his first steps on living a life of crime; to the 2 teenagers (whose idol is Tony "Scarface" Montana) who brazenly steal a cache of Camorra weapons to begin an independent life of crime; to a young innocent man who is enlisted to assist in the illegal dumping of poisonous waste; to a courier for the syndicate who pays stipends to the survivors of those jailed or killed in the never ending war; to a middle aged fashion designer who is under the control of the Camorra but decides to moonlight as an instructor for outside sweatshops. Of course, drugs permeate some of the stories.

Garonne's shooting with a hand held camera only adds to the incredible documentary feel, and the surprise, matter-of fact killings come with minimal special effects making the experience all the more startling, real, and powerful.

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