"Love", the wrenching tale of an elderly man caring for his dying wife, scooped top prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday, handing a second Palme d'Or to Austria's Michael Haneke.
The jury headed by Italian director Nanni Moretti announced the winner among the 22 films in the awards race at a star-studded gala in the French Riviera city that wrapped up a 12-day world cinema marathon.
Haneke's duo of octogenarian French actors, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, bowled Cannes over in the tale of two retired music teachers whose adoring relationship is tested when she suffers a stroke.
Both actors climbed on stage to accept the award with Haneke, who dedicated it to the many people involved in the film -- and to his wife of 30 years.
"This film is an illustration of the promise we made to each other, if either one of us finds ourselves in the situation that is described in the film," the 70-year-old director told the audience.
Hands-down favourite to win, the French-language "Love" marked a journey into tender, intimate territory for a director better known for exposing the chilling secrets of the soul.
The Austrian took the Palme d'Or three years ago for a very different work, "The White Ribbon" a black-and-white study of malice in a German village on the eve of World War I, which some saw as a parable on the roots of Nazi savagery.
He joins a highly select club of two-time laureates, including US director Francis Ford Coppola, Denmark's Bille August, Serbia's Emir Kusturica, Japan's Shohei Imamura and the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
Cannes' best actor award went to Danish heart-throb Mads Mikkelsen, searing as a man falsely accused of molesting a child in the psychological thriller "The Hunt".
Best known to international audiences as Le Chiffre in 2006's the James Bond sequel "Casino Royale", Mikkelsen dedicated his prize to director Thomas Vinterberg, back in Cannes 14 years after the incest drama "Festen."
Two Romanian actresses, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, shared the best actress prize for their roles in Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills", about a young nun and her friend who falls victim to deadly "exorcism".
Mungiu, who also won this year's screenplay prize, captured the Palme d'Or in 2007 for the Communist-era abortion drama "4 Years, 3 Months and 2 Days".
Mexican Carlos Reygadas took best director prize for the baffling family drama "Post Tenebras Lux", whose Latin title means "after darkness, light" and derives from the biblical Book of Job.
The festival's runner-up prize went to "Reality", an Italian tragicomedy starring a jailed former mafia hitman as a man driven mad by a quest to become a reality TV star, directed by Matteo Garrone.
And Cannes veteran Ken Loach took the third place Jury Prize for his bittersweet comedy "The Angel's Share", about a young offender who discovers a talent for whisky-tasting.
The 75-year-old, who took the Palme in 2006 for "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" about Ireland's independence struggle, was back in Cannes this year with a film in competition for a record 11th time.
The Cannes race was wide open until the last moment of the festival, which saw A-listers from Nicole Kidman to "Twilight" heart-throb Robert Pattinson and his on- and off-screen partner Kristen Stewart stride its famed red carpet.
US director Jeff Nichols made a last-minute splash with his Mississippi-set coming-of-age drama "Mud", about two young boys and a fugitive searching for true love, which premiered to rapturous applause on Saturday.
French director Leos Carax got tongues wagging with the mind-bendingly experimental "Holy Motors" about a man who slips actor-like from one identity to another.
And Frenchman Jacques Audiard made a powerful impression with "Rust and Bone", starring Marion Cotillard as a killer-whale trainer who loses both legs to a tragic accident.
From Australian Andrew Dominik, "Killing Them Softly" told of a mob syndicate up against economic hard times, with a humane hitman played by Brad Pitt, star of last year's Palme winner "The Tree of Life" by Terrence Malick.