'This story, in which we believe so much, is going to reach lots of people now,' Cristian Mungiu said as he deservedly collected his Palme d'Or.

The victory for 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days will indeed allow the film to spread its wings. Its success points to the sound working of one institution - the Cannes film festival - which selected the film in the first place. One might even see it as a sign that all is well in the market. The cream has indeed risen to the top.

But it is worth rehearsing a more challenging argument. Speaking before Mungiu's film won its prize, one UK exhibitor ruefully reported his finance director was less than ecstatic to hear about his enthusiasm for a Romanian abortion drama. The Palme d'Or will no doubt have cheered the bean-counter's mood a little but her reaction won't be untypical. It will be fascinating to see how the film overcomes a set of prejudices.

One is about the film's country of origin, Romania, which still conjures up dour images of the Eastern bloc for many - a view based on ignorance. This is a country whose cinema has flowered in recent years. Last year's The Death Of Mr Lazarescu from Cristi Puiu was one of the highlights of the 2006 Un Certain Regard (UCR). And but for a tragic accident, this year's UCR winner Cristian Nemescu (California Dreamin') might have become a major international star.

A Palme d'Or win has the capacity to challenge perceptions of a country. But the fear must be that a work widely acclaimed as a piece of cinematic genius will end up marginalised, with great reviews, but few viewers.

It's not necessarily so. Critics' doubts about its commercial potential didn't stop Mungiu's film getting a rare foreign-language domestic sale to the US, where the abortion theme at its heart is a hot political issue. Yet it remains a tall order to break out beyond the cinephiles.

There's more than prejudice to consider: such films face a more tangible squeeze in the fight for screen space. The Cannes market demonstrated what the box office has been telling us: that English-language blockbusters and local fare are squeezing out potential foreign-language film. Such films have always been a hard sell but there was always a mechanism for widening reach in television. But that too is changing.

European Commissioner Viviane Reding said at Cannes last week: 'At a time when cinema professionals have accepted television, television is paradoxically demonstrating a lack of interest.'

A great many of today's enthusiasts of cinema stumbled serendipitously into film through a TV screening of a great work. That's becoming increasingly difficult - television around the world has pushed film out or to the margins of the schedule and at the same time depressed prices - and invisibility now represents a real danger.

French national newspaper Le Monde last week described Screen as one of the optimists about digital change. But it's less optimism than a practical business necessity. Specialist cinema (the arthouse label is too limiting) needs audiences to survive and is close to getting the technology to reach them.

There's a nice example from Sweden, where one exhibitor is using digital distribution to show opera to packed theatres in a series of small towns - if one can mobilise minorities, there's potential for real success. The internet furthermore not only facilitates such mobilisation but is itself a means of reaching audiences with specialist product.

The truth is that the alternatives do not bear thinking about: a diminishing television audience; a squeeze between private-equity-boosted blockbusters and local fare; the domination of English; an insistence on unaffordable standards of digital projection. A world in which a work of genius is crushed by a market bogged down in analogue limitations is too depressing to contemplate.