"Rust and Bone", Jacques Audiard's moving romance about a street fighter and a killer-whale trainer, was named best picture at the London Film Festival late Saturday.
Organisers said the film, starring French Oscar winner Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer who has a catastrophic accident and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts as her unlikely lover, was "full of heart, violence and love".
French director Audiard, 60, also won best film at the festival in 2009 for his prison drama "A Prophet", and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival for "Rust and Bone".
"Jacques Audiard has a unique handwriting, made up of music, montage, writing, photography, sound, visual design and acting," said playwright and director David Hare, the festival's jury president.
"He is one of only a very small handful of film-makers in the world who has mastered, and can integrate, every element of the process to one purpose: making, in 'Rust and Bone', a film full of heart, violence and love."
The jury also commended "After Lucia", Michel Franco's tale of bullying in a Mexican high school, and Chilean film "No", starring Gael Garcia Bernal, about how advertising contributed to the end of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild", a fantasy set in an impoverished US bayou community, and "Mea Maxima Culpa", a documentary about the Catholic sex abuse scandal, also picked up prizes.
British director Tim Burton and his partner, the actress Helena Bonham Carter, were awarded with fellowships to the British Film Institute for their "outstanding contribution to film culture".
The 12-day festival, which closes on Sunday, has also seen the premiere of "Crossfire Hurricane", a documentary about the Rolling Stones's 50 years in rock and roll.