A grim Romanian movie about an illegal abortion during the Communist era won the Palme d'Or, the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival, on Sunday.
Behind all the usual glamor, hard-hitting films about real life dominated the competition, and critics said the festival, now in its 60th year, had chosen one of the strongest film lineups in years.
"4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," directed by Cristian Mungiu, tells the tragic story of young student friends Otilia and Gabita, who are ruthlessly exploited when one seeks an illegal abortion. Set in the pitiless environment of socialist Romania, the story underlines the lengths to which friends go to save each other.
It's not just the plot that shocks the viewer, though, it's the stark portrayal of the characters' desolate everyday life.
Mungiu welcomed the international attention the award would bring to his and other small-scale productions.
"I ... hope that this award that I am getting tonight is going to be good news for small filmmakers from small countries because it looks like you don't necessarily need a big budget and a lot of stars," he said.
In the film, set in 1987 at the end of Romania's communist era, the two women have to have sex with a doctor to get him to perform the illegal abortion on one of them. Its toughest scene shows a bloody foetus on the bathroom floor.
A Bright Parade of Downbeat Films
"4 Months" was one of 22 films in competition, and beat a series of highly acclaimed pictures for the top prize as the world's biggest film festival.
It's a worthy winner in a year in which the critics' choice focused less on politics and more on the nightmare of daily life. Even the glittering presence of Hollywood's finest like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt couldn't banish a sense of depression emanating from the movie theatres of this French Riviera city this year. Critics were full of praise.
Among the other winning films were such cheerful offerings as "The Mourning Forest," a lyrical Japanese movie about grief directed by Naomi Kawase. It was awarded the runner-up Grand Prix by the nine-member jury, which included British film-maker Stephen Frears, who directed "The Queen."
Julian Schnabel won the best director prize for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," based on the true story of French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and was paralyzed yet managed to write a book using one eyelid to communicate.
The prize for best screenplay went to German-Turkish director and writer Fatih Akin for "The Edge of Heaven," a cross-border story of love and reconciliation.
Best actor was Konstantin Lavronenko, who played the male lead in Russian filmmaker Andrei Zvyagintsev's "The Banishment," another gloomy film that features an abortion.
Best actress was Jeon Do-yeon for South Korean competition entry "Secret Sunshine," an emotional drama about a woman overwhelmed by loss.
Angelina Jolie was praised for her role in "A Mighty Heart," about the kidnapping and beheading of reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic militants, and Michael Moore, winner of the Palme d'Or in 2004, brought his provocative "Sicko" documentary to town.
George Clooney and Brad Pitt came to promote blockbuster "Ocean's 13," Irish rockers U2 performed for a large crowd while Kylie Minogue, Elton John, Sharon Stone and Naomi Campbell worked the party circuit.