The 58th Cannes film festival ended on Sunday with Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne capturing top honors for "The Child", a drama about a young hustler that touched on an overriding theme of lost fathers.
Belgian directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne with the Palme d'Or
The jury, led by Sarajevo-born director Emir Kusturica who like the brothers is also a two-time winner of the Palme d'Or prize, picked the movie out of a pack of 20 other pictures by veteran American, European and Asian filmmakers.
The choice of "The Child" ("L'Enfant") was a surprise for many critics, who had widely tipped a French thriller on racial tensions, "Hidden", to win. The picture claimed only a directing prize for Michael Haneke.
The Dardenne brothers' unflinchingly realistic film depicts a 20-year-old petty thief who sells his newborn son on the black market and then begins a panicked search to recover him and reconcile with his estranged girlfriend.
The feature won high marks for its stark but sympathetic portrayal of down-and-out welfare recipients living on the fringes of European society.
Second Palme d'Or for brothers
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne won their first Palme d'Or in 1999 for "Rosetta", which tells the story of a blue collar worker with an alcoholic mother who strives for a better life.
"L'enfant" from the Dardenne brothers
Luc Dardenne resisted the label of a "socially conscious" artist, saying he aimed to make honest pictures about vivid characters. "Labels are never good. It's the same problem for all filmmakers who make works of art; one has to be careful to not fall into a mold and that's what we hope to not do and so the label social' or others is food for the press," he said.
"They're practical sometimes, but we hope that the film goes beyond such labels."
The brothers dedicated the prize to French journalist Florence Aubenas and Hussein Hanun, her Iraqi interpreter, who have been held hostage in Iraq since January. "Maybe it (the message) will get through and will show the kidnappers we are just as obstinate as they are," Jean-Pierre Dardenne said.
Modern road movie takes second spot
The runner-up prize went to Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," a bittersweet road movie starring Bill Murray as an aging Don Juan looking for a son he is told he fathered decades earlier. "Anyone who makes films from their heart, we're all from the same tribe," Jarmusch said.
Hollywood star Tommy Lee Jones picked up the best acting award for the leading role in his film directing debut, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada," a modern-day Western set in the border area between Texas and Mexico. "Of course I'm surprised and more than anything I am honored by this most prestigious film festival in the world," Jones said. "That's the reason that you become a filmmaker or an actor."
The film also earned the best screenplay honor for Guillermo Arriaga, who penned the drama "21 Grams" starring Sean Penn.
Israeli star named best actress
The best actress award went to Israeli entertainer Hanna Laslo who, in the Israeli movie "Free Zone" by Amos Gitai, stars as a feisty taxi driver traveling to Jordan with a US Jew played by Natalie Portman.
Israeli actress Hanna Laslo
Laslo dedicated the prize to her mother, a Holocaust survivor, and the "victims on the Palestinian side" and hoped the film would further Arab-Israeli dialogue. "It's about time we sit and have a conversation and try to solve the problem," she said.
"Shanghai Dreams" by China's Wang Xiaoshuai won the Jury Prize in the only major accolade for the five Asian contenders.
Estranged father theme replaces politics
Although the Dardenne's film tackled pertinent issues such as the Iraq war and illegal immigration, the competition was notable for steering clear of the political controversy that erupted when Michael Moore's Bush-bashing documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" won the Palme last year.
Among the common themes was that of men unprepared for, or even unaware of, their role as fathers.
Two decades after winning the top prize for "Paris, Texas", German-born director and US screenwriter Wim Wenders returned to Cannes with "Don't Come Knocking" about a washed-up Western star who learns he has an adult son.
"Kilometer Zero", the first Iraqi film ever in competition, depicts a Kurdish father conscripted into Saddam Hussein's army who must fight to return to his family.
And, in the giant crowd-pleaser of the festival, the "Star Wars" sequel "Revenge of the Sith" features the ultimate errant father: Anakin Skywalker, who joins the "Dark Side" as the evil Lord Darth Vader.