Cannes crowned Love, the wrenching tale of a man and his dying wife, with its Palme d'Or prize, as Europe swept the awards at world cinema's top showcase.
Austrian director Michael Haneke's octogenarian actors - French screen icon Jean-Louis Trintignant, 81, and Emmanuelle Riva, 85 - bowled Cannes over in the story of Georges and Anne, an adoring couple whose bond is tested after she suffers a stroke.
Haneke's second Palme in three years confirmed his status as arguably the most important film director working in Europe. The 70-year-old Haneke took the Palme d'Or three years ago for a very different work, The White Ribbon, a black-and-white study of malice in a German village on the eve of World War I - which some saw as a parable on the roots of Nazi savagery.
Hailed as a "masterpiece" by critics, the French- language Love marked a journey into tender new territory for a director better known for exposing the icy secrets of the soul. Haneke's sober camera chronicles the intimate details of Anne's physical and mental decline, as Georges fulfills a pledge to care for her at home until the end.
Both actors climbed on stage at the star-studded gala on Sunday to accept the award with Haneke, who dedicated it to Susanne, his wife of 30 years.
"This film is an illustration of the promise we made to each other, if either one of us finds ourselves in the situation that is described in the film," Haneke told the audience. Speaking for the jury, the designer Jean Paul Gaultier said Riva and Trintignant had delivered "the greatest emotion of all the movies we saw."
Choosing among 22 films from around the world, the jury headed by Italian director Nanni Moretti handed all but one prize to Europeans.
Cannes' best actor award went to Danish heartthrob Mads Mikkelsen, 46, searing as a man falsely accused of molesting a child in the psychological thriller The Hunt by Thomas Vinterberg.
Two Romanians, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, shared the best actress prize for their roles in Cristian Mungiu's Beyond the Hills, about a young nun and her friend who falls victim to a deadly "exorcism."
Mungiu, who captured the Palme d'Or in 2007 for the communist-era abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, also won this year's screenplay prize for the story that explores how badly institutions can fail the individual.
The festival's runner-up Grand Prix award went to Reality, a tragicomedy by Italy's Matteo Garrone, starring a jailed former mafia hitman as a father driven mad by a quest to become a reality TV star.
Neapolitan Aniello Arena was given permission to act in the film on a day-release program, but not to join the cast and crew on the Riviera.
Cannes veteran Ken Loach took the third place Jury Prize for his bittersweet comedy The Angel's Share, about a young offender who discovers a life-changing talent for whisky-tasting.
The 75-year-old, who took the Palme in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about Ireland's independence struggle, was competing in Cannes for a record 11th time.