Danish heart-throb Mads Mikkelsen clinched the best actor prize at Cannes on Sunday for his role in Thomas Vinterberg's taut psychological thriller "The Hunt".
Italian jury head Nanni Moretti and his eight-strong panel handed the prestigious award to Mikkelsen for his turn as a man who watches his life unravel after he is falsely accused of molesting a child.
"Eighty percent of this is Thomas Vinterberg's prize," Mikkelsen said as he picked up the statuette. "Thank you for inviting me into this universe of collaboration and love."
Cannes jury member Ewan McGregor told reporters after the awards ceremony that Mikkelsen's "performance is subtle and marvelously well played."
Mikkelsen, 46, is best known to international audiences for his role as James Bond's nemesis Le Chiffre in 2006's "Casino Royale" and is now starring in the Scandinavian blockbuster "A Royal Affair".
He told reporters during the festival that the highly-charged material in "The Hunt" required a delicate touch.
"We know for sure that way too many kids are being abused out there. We know that, we're not questioning that," he said.
"But for us it was very much about when you love something as much as you can love a child, that love can turn into fear when something happens or might happen. And society... can implode with this fear."
"The Hunt" emerged as an early favourite at the 12-day festival.
With a controversial take on an intensely emotional issue, Vinterberg returned to cinema's top international showcase 14 years after scooping the Grand Prix runner-up prize with "Festen" (The Celebration).
In the new picture, Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a divorced father of a teenage boy who is working at a creche.
A young girl, the daughter of Lucas's best friend, develops a crush on him while in his care and when he gently explains the boundaries of their friendship, she begins to pout.
Later, she tells the creche director that she doesn't like Lucas anymore and claims that she has seen his genitals -- an accusation she later tries to retract but only after suspicion has spiralled out of control.
A witch-hunt ensues against Lucas, a hobby marksman, and as the mass hysteria takes hold, his life crumbles around him and he loses his job, his new lover, life-long friends and, potentially, access to his beloved son.
Only the son and a close old friend stand by him as the community descends into paranoia and other children, getting swept up in the frenzy, accuse Lucas of molesting them as well.
Vinterberg described Lucas as "a portrait of a modern Scandinavian man -- warm, friendly, helpful and humble... castrated in a way," who is struggling to retain his dignity.
Mikkelsen attended the Aarhus Theatre's Drama School and broke out from the pack with his first feature, 1996's "Pusher" by Nicolas Winding Refn, who captured the Cannes best director prize last year for "Drive".
He went on to star in the wildly popular television crime series "Unit One" which picked up an international Emmy award, and later showcased his comic talents in the 2006 hit "Adam's Apples".
The same year, he appeared in the Oscar-nominated "After the Wedding" by Susanne Bier and watched his international profile grow with turns in "Casino Royale", "Valhalla Rising", "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky", "Clash of the Titans" and "The Three Musketeers".
He is soon due to co-star with Harvey Keitel in "Cut Throats Nine", billed as a "horror western".