Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard's soaring story of love, loss and killer whales, was named best picture at the London Film Festival on Saturday.
The movie is a thriller-cum-melodrama about the unlikely relationship between a bare-knuckle boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a whale trainer, played by Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, who suffers a tragic workplace accident.
The president of the award jury, British playwright David Hare, praised it as "a film full of heart, violence and love." The award was accepted by star Schoenaerts.
French filmmaker Audiard won the same award at the London festival in 2009 for his prison drama A Prophet.
American director Benh Zeitlin took the best debut feature prize with his atmospheric bayou saga Beasts of the Southern Wild. Juror Hannah McGill praised the "daringly vast, richly detailed" film, which has won wide praise since its Sundance Film Festival debut earlier this year.
The trophy for best British newcomer went to Sally El Hosaini for My Brother the Devil, the story of British-Egyptian brothers struggling with conflicting loyalties and identities in modern-day London. The best documentary prize went to Alex Gibney's Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, an investigation of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
Director Tim Burton and actress Helena Bonham Carter – real-life partners as well as creative collaborators – received career honours known as British Film Institute Fellowships during an awards ceremony at London's Banqueting House.
The festival wrapped up on Sunday with a gala screening of Mike Newell's adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, starring Bonham Carter and Ralph Fiennes.
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