CANNES (Reuters) - An emotional lesbian love story by French director Abdellatif Kechiche won the top prize at the 2013 Cannes festival on Sunday, ending 12 packed days of premieres, celebrity appearances, rain and dramatic jewelry thefts.
"La Vie d'Adele - Chapitre 1 & 2" (Blue is the Warmest Colour) was chosen from a field of 20 films full of sex, violence and anguish vying for the Palme d'Or, one of the most coveted film awards after the Oscars.
Critics had picked the film as a possible winner at the 66th Cannes festival but queried whether its no-holds-barred lesbian sex scenes would be a deterrent to the jury deciding the awards led by U.S. filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
"I think it will get a lot of play ... I think this film carries a very strong message, a very positive message," Spielberg told a news conference, adding that he was a firm supporter of same-sex marriage.
Kechiche, an actor who made his directorial debut in 2000, was virtually speechless as he went up on stage to receive his award from U.S. actress Uma Thurman before a star-studded audience.
"As you know I always take my time. I always need time to reflect before starting. It is my rhythm, I am sorry," said Kechiche as he was handed the Palme d'Or statuette, flanked by his two lead actresses, Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos.
He dedicated the award to the youth of Tunisia, where he was born, praising their strength in the Arab Spring as those "who wanted only to live, speak and love freely".
The competition was an open field ahead of Sunday's award ceremony. Another forerunner, the quirky comedy "Inside Llewyn Davis" about a struggling New York folk singer by the American Coen brothers, was named as runner-up.
The award for best actor went to American Bruce Dern, 76, from Alexander Payne's film "Nebraska" in which he played an ageing, alcoholic father on a road trip with his son through the depressed midwestern United States to collect a lottery prize.
French actress Berenice Bejo won the best actress award for playing the wife in Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's tense domestic drama "Le Passe" (The Past).
"I was not expecting this," said an emotional Bejo, in a teal lace dress. Earlier she had signed autographs on the red carpet in blazing sunshine, a contrast to the festival's opening ceremony on May 15 when umbrellas took over in the rain.
The third prize went to Japanese director Kore-Eda Hirokazu's "Soshite Chichi Ni Naru" (Like Father, Like Son) while the award for best director went to Mexico's Amat Escalante for his brutal look at Mexico's drug war, "Heli".
(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Mike Collett-White)