CANNES, France Abdellatif Kechiche's lesbian romance "Blue Is the Warmest Color: The Life of Adele" has won the Palme d'Or, the top honor of the Cannes Film Festival.
The jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, took the unusual move of awarding the Palme not just to Kechiche, but also to the film's two stars: Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. The three clutched each other as they accepted the award, one of cinema's greatest honors.
"The film had a beautiful French youth that I discovered during the long time filming the movie," said Kechiche at the festival closing ceremony Sunday. "It taught me a lot about the spirit of freedom."
Exarchopoulos stars in the film as a 15-year-old girl whose life is changed when she falls in love with an older woman, played by Seydoux. The three-hour film caught headlines for its lengthy, graphic sex scenes, but bewitched festivalgoers with its intimate coming-of-age story.
"The film is a great love story that made us all feel privileged to be invited to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak," Spielberg told reporters. "The director didn't put any constraints on the narrative."
The Palme d'Or, which the jury awards to its choice from the 20 films in competition at Cannes, had been viewed as a relatively wide-open race ahead of Sunday's awards. But the festival audience gave a standing ovation to the "The Life of Adele," which critics polls had ranked highest.
Joel and Ethan Coen's 1960s folk tale, "Inside Llewyn Davis," was awarded the Grand Prix, Cannes' second most prestigious award. The film's breakout star, Oscar Isaac, accepted the award on behalf of the directors.
Best Actor went to 76-year-old Bruce Dern for Alexander Payne's father-son road trip "Nebraska." Berenice Bejo (star of "The Artist") won Best Actress for her performance as a single mother balancing a visiting ex-husband and a new fiance in Asghar Farhadi's "The Past."
Payne accepted the award for Dern, remarking, "If Bruce Dern had been here tonight, he would have said that he was proud of his work in this film. He would have thanked the Jury and the public, and he would probably have thanked me, too."
The Best Director award was presented to Amat Escalante for the graphic Mexican film, "Heli."
Filmed in the bleak and beautiful landscape around the central Mexican city of Guanajuato, the film focuses on Heli, a young man whose family is sucked into the world of the country's drug wars. With shocking suddenness, violence busts over them, then leaves the damaged survivors to pick up the pieces as best they can.
"I'd like to thank this Jury for making this brave decision," Escalante said after receiving the award. "It is a sign of hope for Mexico. Hopefully our suffering will come to an end very soon."
The Jury Prize, Cannes' third top award, was presented to "Soshite Chichi Ni Naru (Like Father, Like Son)," a gentle switched-at-birth drama by Kore-Eda Hirokazu of Japan.
The Prize for Best Screenplay was won by Jia Zhangke for "Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin)." The films tells four intertwined stories depicting a fast-changing China and the social issues that have arisen as a result, some of which the government prefers not to acknowledge: corruption, greed, violent crime and the growing gap between economic winners and losers.
The Palme d'or for Best Short Film was awarded to "Safe" by Korean director Moon Byoung-gon. The Cinefondation and Short Film Jury also awarded two special mentions to "Hvalfjordur" by Icelandic director Gudmundur Arnar Gumunsson, and to "37 degrees 4 S" by Adriano Valerio of Italy.
Singaporean director Anthony Chen won the Camera d'Or (for best first feature) for "Ilo Ilo." Set during the Asia financial crisis in 1997, the film is about a Singaporean family and its new maid.
Said Spielberg: "We crossed the world through these films."