"Of Gods and Men," a film about the unsolved murder of French monks during Algeria's brutal civil conflict in the 1990s, won best film on Friday in France's annual version of the Academy Awards.
Director Roman Polanski and "The Social Network" were also honored with "Cesars," -- the French answer to the Oscars.
"Of Gods and Men", a somber film based on the true story of the last days of seven monks in an Algerian monastery, clinched a total of three Cesars.
The seven members of a Trappist order lived in a monastery in Tibehirine south of Algiers and disappeared in 1996 during a savage wave of killings by both Islamist militants and government forces.
Only their severed heads were ever recovered and the exact circumstances of their deaths remain unclear.
The film focuses on the rhythms of monastic life and how the men face up to the growing threat of violent death as civil conflict escalates around them. It also tackles universal themes of faith and religious tolerance.
The film's director, Xavier Beauvois, used his acceptance speech to appeal for openness toward Muslims ahead of France's 2012 presidential elections.
"I don't want people to say bad things about Muslims in the upcoming electoral campaign. I want us to be together with them, that's the lesson of this film," he said.
The film was also awarded best film score and Michael Lonsdale was named best supporting actor for his role as the monastery's doctor.
Polanski was named best director for his film "The Ghost Writer," a political thriller which won a total of four awards.
The French-Polish director spent several months last year under house arrest in Switzerland but avoided extradition to the United States in connection with a 1977 sex crime.
Acclaimed U.S. director Quentin Tarantino, who made such films as "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown," was handed an honorary Cesar.
The best foreign film went to the Facebook movie "The Social Network," which is also competing for Oscars at the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood on Sunday.