Director who championed the underdog

French cinema mourns death of Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet at 63

by Richard Mowe

Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner The Class
Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner The Class Photo: UniFrance
The French director Laurent Cantet who struck gold at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008 with the Palme d’Or winner, The Class, has died at the age of 63.

Laurent Cantet
Laurent Cantet Photo: Veeren Ramsamy for UniFrance
The film was based on the novel Entre les murs which was a semi-autobiographical account of the author François Bégaudeau's own experiences in the school system in Paris - and featured him in the lead role of the teacher confronting “problem children.”

Beside the Palme d’Or the film also was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film.

Cantet was a filmmaker who showed a lively interest in social issues and themes, often used non professional actors and took a naturalistic approach to his subjects. His kindred spirits would be Ken Loach and the Dardenne Brothers as well as the traditions of Roberto Rossellini and Robert Bresson.

His films early in his career set the tone with Human Resources in 1999 dealing with industrial relations in a provincial factory while Time Out in 2001 examined an executive’s attempt make up a new working life as a cover because he cannot bear to tell his wife he has been sacked. It won a best feature award at the César’s (France’s answer to the Oscars).

Cantet’s interest in youth took a different tack with Foxfire in 2012, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates about a girl gang in 1950s New York.

Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner The Class
Laurent Cantet's Palme d'Or winner The Class Photo: UniFrance
His regular writing partner was Robin Campillo (120 Beats) with whom he worked on 2017’s The Workshop, set in La Ciotat in the south of France, and dealing with a group of youngsters coming together to write a crime thriller under the tutelage of Marina Foïs as a novelist and the only professional in the cast.

Revealingly he told one interviewer: “When the actual workshop was held in La Ciotat the aim was to help the youngsters to understand the working-class past of the city, especially the shipyard that had been closed down. Nowadays that history has lost its meaning. Nevertheless, I thought that the workshop was an interesting way of allowing the youngsters to say how they feel about life. Young people have different preoccupations nowadays. The world is different, it’s more violent, their possibilities have been reduced. In small cities such as La Ciotat youngsters are very often bored. So this is what I really wanted to look at.”

Charlotte Rampling and Menothy Cesar in Laurent Cantet’s Heading South
Charlotte Rampling and Menothy Cesar in Laurent Cantet’s Heading South Photo: Haut et Court
He worked with Charlotte Rampling in 2005 on Heading South, examining sexual tourism in Haiti. On casting Rampling Cantet once revealed: “I met her before writing the screenplay, we talked and she asked all the questions that I needed to be asked. On reading the screenplay, she felt that her character would not be easy to carry off, not very sympathetic at the start and weak at the end. But she said yes!” His most recent film was Arthur Rambo, released three years ago and looking at the shock waves faced by a teenager whose online identity is revealed.

The director earned his early spurs at the Hautes Etudes Cinématographiques in Paris before working in television which he used as a springboard towards cinema.

Cantet’s agent revealed that he had died earlier today (25 April) of an undisclosed "illness"

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