The South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Pieta won the top prize at the Venice film festival, while Paul Thomas Anderson's Scientology-inspired The Master walked off with two major awards.
The eccentric Ki-duk delighted the audience at the awards ceremony by breaking into a Korean folk song on stage to celebrate winning the Golden Lion award for his bleak morality tale.
His film tells the story of a diabolical loan shark who prowls the alleys of a Seoul district being redeveloped. A mysterious woman claiming to be his mother walks into his life and the twisted hero struggles for redemption in an emotional crescendo.
The 51-year-old Kim said his film was intended to be a denunciation of "extreme capitalism", adding that money was the "third protagonist" in the movie.
"Pieta seduces you viscerally," said the Hollywood director Michael Mann, who presided over this year's jury at the festival.
The best actor award was jointly won by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman for their performances in The Master, while Anderson picked up the Silver Lion award for best director.
Phoenix plays a Second World War veteran who becomes a disciple to the charismatic Hoffman, who plays the leader of a nascent movement called The Cause in the beautifully shot movie set in the 1950s.
Since Phoenix and Anderson were not present, the prizes were collected by a dishevelled-looking Hoffman, who said he had just stepped off a plane.
"Joaquin is a life force in the film and I kind of rode it in the film and that was my performance. It was something untameable," said Hoffman.
Sources told The Hollywood Reporter that the jury was set to award the Golden Lion to The Master, but festival rules prohibit one film from garnering more than two awards.
The award for best actress went to Hadas Yaron, who plays a fragile but passionate young girl becoming a woman in Rama Burshtein's Lemale Et Ha'Chalal (Fill the Void).
The French director Olivier Assayas won best screenplay for his Apres Mai (Something in the Air) about a group of politically active youngsters growing up in France in the early 1970s. - AFP