Ai No Yokan (The Rebirth) by Japanese director Masahiro Kobayashi has won the Golden Leopard award at the 60th Locarno International Film Festival.
The prize chosen by the Locarno public - who last year backed a future Oscar winner - went to Frank Oz's black comedy, Death at a Funeral.
The jury of the international competition, headed by Swiss actress Irène Jacob, awarded the prestigious Golden Leopard to Ai No Yokan – a gripping account of unsaid love, pain and survival – for being "the most aesthetically powerful and most original" of the 19 films in the main competition.
The Silver Leopard, a Special Jury Prize "for a work that promotes understanding between peoples and cultures", went to the South Korean film Memories, an ensemble work by three directors: Eugène Green, Pedro Costa and Harun Farocki.
Philippe Ramos's skilful construction of "Captain Achab", a free adaptation of Moby Dick, won him the prize for best direction.
The award for best actor was shared by French actor Michel Piccoli, for his sensitive portrayal of a poor and lonely dying old man in Sous les Toits de Paris (Under Parisian Roofs), and Italian actor Michele Venitucci, for his role as a man stuck in the world of illegal boxing in Fuori dalle Corde (Off the Ropes).
The latter film, directed by Fulvio Bernasconi, was the only film in the international competition by a Swiss director.
The best actress award was presented to Spanish actress Marian Alvarez for her interpretation of a young woman fighting for her true love's life in Lo Mejor de mi (The Best of Me).
Put the fun in funeral
The Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present Competition, which offers films that are radical and innovative in their approach, subject or style, was awarded to the Hungarian-German co-production Tejút (Milky Way), by director Benedek Fliegauf.
In Tejút, a string of 12 silent equal-length episodes, Fliegauf poetically captures brief instants of life with universal significance.
The Special Jury Prize in the Filmmakers of the Present Competition went to Imatra, by Italian director Corso Salani.
In the Leopards of Tomorrow short film section, for works with a maximum running time of 40 minutes, the Small Golden Leopard was awarded to Romanian director Adrian Sitaru for Valuri.
The Prix du Public went to Death at a Funeral, a British black comedy by British-born director Frank Oz, also the voice of Miss Piggy and Yoda.
This could be one to look out for, judging the Locarno public's past form: last year they gave the prize to Stasi drama Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others), which went on to win the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars.
Apart from a few grumbles about the SFr32 ($27) entry price to the Piazza Grande – and problems on a couple of evenings when more tickets were sold than seats were available – the festival's diamond anniversary was generally considered a sparkling success.
Festival president Marco Solari said he was happy with the 70,000 tickets sold – down on the 78,400 sold last year but two evenings were hit by rain – and festival director Frédéric Maire with the films chosen by the various juries, which were generally well received by the critics.
Gino Buscaglia, a Swiss journalist and film critic, told swissinfo: "The choice of films for the Piazza Grande was very good and the films were well-suited for the general public. I would say that the line taken by Maire is the right one."
But he added: "There were some very good, innovative and experimental films in the international competition but also some rather poor-quality and disappointing ones. It would benefit from a better and more rigorous selection."
Buscaglia also had concerns that Locarno's reputation as an accessible festival for all film lovers was under threat.
"More attention should be paid to the Piazza, which is becoming the preserve of VIPs at the expense of the public, whose seats are being increasingly confined to the back and sides of the Piazza," he said.
"The Piazza belongs to the public and it should remain that way."
swissinfo with agencies
Golden Leopard winners 1997-2007
2007 – "Ai no yokan", Masahiro Kobayashi, Japan
2006 - "Das Fräulein", Andrea Staka, Switzerland
2005 - "Nine lives", Rodrigo Garcia, United States
2004 - "Private", Saverio Costanzo, Italy
2003 - "Khamosh Pani", Sabiha Sumar, Pakistan
2002 - "Das Verlangen", Iain Dilthey, Germany
2001 - "Alla rivoluzione sulla due cavalli", Maurizio Sciarra, Italy
2000 - "Baba", Wang Shuo, China
1999 - "Peau d'homme, coeur de bête", Hélène Angel, France
1998 - "Zhao Xiansheng", Lü Yue, China
1997 - "Ayneh", Jafar Panahi, Iran
The Golden Leopard: Ai No Yokan (The Rebirth), Masahiro Kobayashi (Japan)
Best direction: Philippe Ramos for Captain Achab (France)
The Special Jury Prize: Memories, Eugène Green/Pedro Costa/Harun Farocki (South Korea)
Best Actor: Michel Piccoli for Sous les Toits de Paris (Under Parisian Roofs) (France), and Michele Venitucci for Fuori dalle Corde (Off the Ropes) (Switzerland/Italy)
Best Actress: Marian Alvarez for Lo Mejor de mi (The Best of Me) (Spain).