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French classroom film wins top prize in Cannes
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Jury President Sean Penn (R) and actor Robert de Niro pose beside actress Catherine Deneuve after she receives the Special Mention from the jury for her film 'Un Conte de Noel (A Christmas Tree)' during the award ceremony at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 25, 2008[Agencies]

"Entre les murs" (The Class), a film set in a tough Parisian high school, won the Palme d'Or for best picture at the Cannes festival on Sunday.

Directed by Laurent Cantet, the picture based on an autobiographical novel by Francois Begaudeau was the first French winner in Cannes since 1987.

It is likely to be a popular choice with critics, who praised its naturalistic portrayal of the energy and high tension of the classroom as well as its exploration of universal themes of race, individuality, and truth.

The Class comes at time when problems in overcrowded French schools and youth violence have become hot political issues.

"I think it would be good for all those people who claim to be able to judge youth ... in two or three aphorisms to learn something new about youth," said Begaudeau, who also plays the central teacher in the film.

"It's essentially a film for adults even though I hope young people will also enjoy the film."

The Class was one of 22 movies in the main competition in Cannes, and Sunday's glamorous red carpet prize ceremony ended 12 hectic days of screenings, interviews and late night revelry for actors, producers, directors and journalists.

Big names like Angelina Jolie, Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, Penelope Cruz, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford as well as sports stars Mike Tyson and Diego Maradona all trod the famous red carpet this year.

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