VENICE (Reuters) - Swedish director Roy Andersson's offbeat comedy "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" won the Golden Lion award for best film at the 71st Venice Film Festival on Saturday.
Andersson, whose films have won a cult following in Europe, endeared himself to the Italian audience for the awards ceremony in Venice's Palace of the Cinema by saying he had been inspired by the famous Italian director Vittorio De Sica, and particularly his "Bicycle Thieves" of 1948.
"It's so full of empathy and it's so humanistic and I think that's what movies should be, in the service of humanism," he said as he accepted the award.
"So I will go further and try to work and make as good movies as Vittorio De Sica."
The award for best director went to 77-year-old Andrei Konchalovsky for his film "The Postman's White Nights", which is set in a lakeside village in the Russian countryside and follows the lives of local people, sometimes filmed through hidden cameras.
American director Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Look of Silence", a documentary about confronting the perpetrators of massacres in Indonesia in the 1960s following a failed communist coup, got the Jury Prize for best film.
The Italian film "Hungry Hearts", directed by Saverio Costanzo who said he made the film for under 1 million euros($1.30 million), took the best actor and best actress awards.
They went to Adam Driver, who will be in the next "Star Wars" sagas, and to Alba Rohrwacher in the story of a New York wife obsessed with cleanliness when her baby is born.
The best young actor award went to Romain Paul for his performance in French director Alix Delaporte's "Le Dernier Coup de Marteau" (The Last Blow of the Hammer) as a young boy torn between remaining faithful to the dying mother who has raised him or going to live with the father he has never known.
Iranian director Rakshhan Bani-Etemad's "Ghesseha" (Tales), chronicling the hardships of life in Tehran, won the award for best screenplay while the Turkish film "Sivas", about a fighting dog and his child owner, took the Special Jury Prize.
Jay Weissberg, reviewer for the trade publication Variety, said he thought the film by Andersson, whose quirky films have won over audiences in Europe but have not had much traction in the United States, would be "a popular choice".
"I think everyone is quite pleased with that," Weissberg said.
But Weissberg said the fact that the festival's critically acclaimed opening film "Birdman", starring Michael Keaton as a former movie superhero trying to make a comeback on Broadway, was shut out of the awards "might be a bit of a danger" for the festival's efforts to get big-budget Hollywood films in future.
(Reporting by Michael Roddy; Editing by Stephen Powell)