Laurent Cantet, winner of the Palme d’Or with Entre les Murs, has died at age 63

The last time Laurent Cantet appeared in public was in September 2023, in a restaurant a stone’s throw from the Gare de l’Est. The director ofBetween the walls, Palme d’Or in 2008, took its place alongside other filmmakers (Pascale Ferran, Cédric Klapisch, Bertrand Bonello, Rebecca Zlotowski. Michel Hazanavicius, Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano), to present the new version of Cinetek, a platform for movie-loving video on demand. A “cinema library of filmmakers” that he had co-founded and which he justified in these terms: “The plethoric offering on the platforms causes such dizziness that we don’t know what to watch.” Laurent Cantet had been battling cancer for months. A fight lost Thursday at the age of 63.

Laurent Cantet loved the collective. This son of teachers had maintained strong ties with his comrades he met on the benches of IDHEC in 1984, Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand and Robin Campillo. Most of his films feature human groups struggling or trying to live in harmony. His first short film is not called for nothing All at the demonstration. His first feature film, Human ressources, features a son who has recently graduated from a Parisian business school doing an internship in the Normandy factory where his worker father works. During the internship, he discovers that a layoff plan threatens the company. This first film, César for Best Debut Work in 2001, reveals in passing the actor Jalil Lespert, César for Best New Actor.

Cantet asserts himself as a committed, social filmmaker. His second film, The timetableco-written with Robin Campillo (future director of 120 beats per minute), however, is in no way a militant leaflet. It still deals with the world of work, or rather the relationship to work, in a subtle and ambiguous way. The scenario is very freely inspired by the Jean-Claude Romand affair, told by Emmanuel Carrère in The Adversary and adapted for the cinema by Nicole Garcia. Aurélien Recoing plays a consultant who hides from his wife that he has lost his job. He invents imaginary meetings, hangs out on motorway rest areas, consorts with a crook. Cantet retains from Romand the lie and the social death of a man without work. With his next film, To the south, inspired by a novel by the Haitian writer Dany Laferrière, Cantet takes off but continues to depict class relations and power dynamics. In a postcard setting (huts, coconut trees and fine sand), Charlotte Rampling competes with another rich American for the favors of a young man of 18 years old.

Cantet continued in 2008 with Between the walls, based on the book by François Bégaudeau. The writer plays his own role, that of a French teacher in a Parisian college classified as ZEP (priority education zone). Long before the current wave of films about school (A serious job, The Teachers’ Room, No waves…), Cantet shows the classroom as a microcosm of society. And the difficulty for a teacher to embody authority while affirming the meritocratic virtues of the republican school despite social inequalities. The film is selected on the edge in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Cantet receives the Palme d’Or from the president of the jury Sean Penn. The filmmaker will never again have the honors of the competition, unlike other award-winning directors and eternal subscribers. Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang will not go to the Croisette. Based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, it features a group of young girls in the United States in the 1950s. Their target: machismo, the influence of men. A feminist work well before the Metoo movement.

Cantet continues to travel with Return to Ithaca, co-written with Cuban writer Leonardo Padura. The filmmaker once again questions the collective and its damaged utopias. He films a lost generation. Men and a woman victims of “special period” decreed by Fidel Castro in 1992, a decade of deprivation and repression. On a rooftop terrace in Havana overlooking the sea, five friends drink and chat. They are in their fifties. From dusk to dawn, they remember their vanished youth and their vanished illusions.

Cantet returns to France and is hardly more optimistic. In L’Atelier, he sets up his camera in La Ciotat and imagines Marina Foïs as a recognized novelist leading a writing workshop for young people in integration. Opposite her, Antoine, less nostalgic for the shipyard closed for 25 years than resistant to any dialogue and attracted to violence. A dialogue of the deaf as much as a troubled game of seduction between two generations, two representatives of two irreconcilable cultural and social backgrounds.

Arthur Rambohis final film, released in 2021, is inspired by the Mehdi Meklat affair, the name of half of the duo Mehdi and Badrou, nicknamed “the Kids”, voice of the suburbs and those left behind through the Bondy Blog, then on France Inter in Pascale Clark’s show, As they speak to us. The unearthing of his racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic tweets, published several years previously under a pseudonym, created controversy. Cantet condenses the affair over two days, which saw Karim go from herald to zero. The Rastignac of digital times discovers the “licking-dropping-lynching” triptych. Everyone plays the role assigned to them by their social function, in accordance with flawless determinism. Even Karim’s little brother, Farid, supportive and a victim (Palestine, Charlie, the cops, he mixes everything).

Laurent Cantet was preparing a new film, The Apprentice, alongside Marie-Ange Luciani, the producer ofAnatomy of a fall. Illness prevented him from carrying out this project.

By Editor

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