Malick's drama The Tree of Life triumphs in Cannes
US director Terrence Malick's drama The Tree of Life has won the Palme d'Or prize for best picture at the Cannes film festival.
The film, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, is about a family in Texas in the 1950s, but is also a meditation on the meaning of life.
The film had divided critics at the prestigious festival, says BBC arts correspondent Vincent Dowd.
He says some consider it pretentious and others profound.
Best actor award went to French performer Jean Dujardin for the silent film The Artist.
Best actress was won by US actress Kirsten Dunst for her role in the apocalyptic psychodrama Melancholia.
Melancholia director Lars von Trier was barred from the festival for remarks made at a news conference in which he said he was a Nazi. He later said he had spoken in jest.
The Tree of Life is only the fifth movie from Terrence Malick in almost 40 years.
At 148 minutes it is an epic about what it is to be human, with some scenes depicting the beginnings of life on earth.
At Cannes its ambition baffled a few reviewers but it found favour with the nine-member jury, chaired by Robert de Niro.
De Niro said after the ceremony that The Tree of Life had "the size, the importance, the intention, whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize".
Malick, 67, who is notoriously publicity shy, was not present to accept the award, leaving one of his co-producers, Bill Pohlad, to speak on his behalf.
"I know he is thrilled with this award, as are all of us," Mr Pohlad said.
The Artist, which depicts Hollywood at the end of the silent-movie era, is a French film but made in Los Angeles.
With its period score and winning performances it was a big success at Cannes and has already secured international distribution.
It was the 64th Cannes film festival and, by common consent, one of the best for years, our correspondent adds.