Robert DeNiro presented top honors today to Laurent Cantet’s French classroom drama Entre Les Murs at the 61st Cannes Film Festival. The winner of the Palme D’Or is a frank tale about classroom life using real students and teachers at a junior high school and is shot in a raw, improvisational style to chronicle the events that unfold over one school year. Some 22 films were vying for top honors, which shut out Changeling, Clint Eastwood’s raved about pic starring Angelina Jolie in the true-life story of a L.A. woman battling corrupt police. But the jury headed by Sean Penn gave a Special Award of this 2008 May 14th-to-25th festival to Eastwood and to the French actress Catherine Deneuve. The Grand Prize was awarded by Roman Polanski to director Matteo Garrone for Gomorra, a study of the criminal underworld in Naples. Best Actor went to Benicio del Toro in Steven Soderbergh’s Che: “I’d like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara.” Best Actress went to Sandra Corveloni in Linha de Passe.

Following are the winners of the main prizes and a selection of quotes via Reuters:

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PALME D’OR
Entre Les Murs, directed by Laurent Cantet
“The film we wanted to make had to be a reflection of French society — multiple, many-faceted, complex. Sometimes also with friction that the film does not try to cover up,” Cantet said.

GRAND PRIX (Runner-up prize)
Gomorra directed by Matteo Garrone

SPECIAL PRIZE
Catherine Deneuve
“It is such a joy to be able to continue to be in such fine, sensitive films as this one and I want to continue to make films as long as there are such rare directors as Arnaud Desplechin” (who directed her in competition film Un Conte de Noel (Christmas Tale).
Clint Eastwood

BEST DIRECTOR
Nuri Bilge Ceylan for
Three Monkeys

JURY PRIZE
Il Divo directed by Paolo Sorrentino

BEST ACTOR
Benicio del Toro in Che
“I’d like to dedicate this to the man himself, Che Guevara.”

BEST ACTRESS
Sandra Corveloni in Linha de Passe (Line of Passage)

BEST SCREENPLAY
Lorna’s Silence by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

CAMERA D’OR (Prize for directorial debut)
Hunger, directed by Steve McQueen
“The film is about people in a situation of extreme pressure and what people do and what we do,” he said about the pic about the hunger strike by Northern Irish guerrilla Bobby Sands.