Reclusive US director Terrence Malick clinched the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival for "The Tree of Life", a fantastical family drama uniting Brad Pitt and Sean Penn on screen.
Malick did not turn up at the gala awards ceremony Sunday, after which jury president Robert De Niro said the epic had "the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize".
Kirsten Dunst won acting honours for her turn as a depressed bride facing the apocalypse in "Melancholia" by Denmark's Lars von Trier, who was expelled from the festival for making an awkward joke about his sympathies for Hitler.
"Well, what a week it's been," she quipped, referring to the scandal which marred what critics otherwise hailed as a vintage year at the world's top cinema showcase. She skipped a post-ceremony press conference.
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