CANNES, France - Franco-Polish director Roman Polanski won the Cannes film festival's coveted Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) award on Sunday for "The Pianist," the story of one man's survival in the Warsaw ghetto during World War Two.
The film stars Adrien Brody as a brilliant Polish pianist who manages to escape the Warsaw ghetto. As boy in Poland, Polanski himself survived the Krakow ghetto but lost his mother at a Nazi concentration camp in Poland.
It was the first time that Polanski, director of such classics as "Chinatown," "Repulsion" and "Rosemary's Baby," has taken the top prize at the world's most famous film festival.
"I am honored and moved to receive this prestigious prize for a film which represents Poland," said Polanski, who was born in France to Jewish parents but later returned to Poland.
Finland's Kati Outinen won the award for best actress for her performance in "The Man Without a Past," as a Salvation Army officer who falls in love with a man who has lost his memory.
The award for best actor went to Belgium's Olivier Gourmet, who starred as a carpenter forced into an awkward relationship with an adolescent who murdered his son in "Le Fils" ("The Son").
"The Pianist" was selected as the best film among 22 features from 15 countries, ranging in style from a school-shooting documentary to a comedy about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The winning actors are virtually unknown outside their home countries, in contrast to the stars who crowded the red carpet this year.
Reclusive U.S. actor-director Woody Allen, making his first visit to the festival, lent glamour and gravitas to the opening ceremony, where he presented his latest comedy, "Hollywood Ending."
Heartthrobs Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz sent fans wild when they showed up for a 20-minute sneak preview of Martin Scorsese's epic "Gangs of New York", due for release in December.
Even the jury dazzled. jury member Sharon Stone, returning to the spotlight after a brain aneurysm last year, delighted the paparazzi with her extended daily forays onto the red carpet.
Though stars may hog the headlines, the real business of Cannes is cinema.
Directors from Canada to South Korea showed an unusually strong selection of movies, proving the film industry remains vibrant despite a global slowdown that has made buyers cautious.
Critics' favourites "The Man Without a Past" by eccentric Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki and "Divine Intervention" by Palestinian Elia Suleiman did not walk away empty-handed.
Kaurismaki won the Grand Prize, a runner-up to the Palme d'Or, while Suleiman received the Jury Prize, a mark of special recognition.