The 72nd Berlin film festival on Wednesday awarded its Golden Bear top prize to Spanish director Carla Simon's semi-autobiographical drama "Alcarras," about a family of peach farmers fighting for their future.
This year's Berlinale was held in-person for the first time in two years but was a shorter competition than usual, with strict regulations for audience members, as COVID-19 infections were peaking in Germany.
There were 18 films from 15 countries vying for the Golden Bear, with the jury led by Indian-born American director M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense").
Simon, 35, dedicated the prize to her family, saying that "without them and my closeness to this world, I wouldn't have been able to tell this story."
The Berlinale is now the third major European film festival in a row to award its top prize to a woman director, following Cannes and Venice last year.
German-Turkish comedian Meltem Kaptan, 41, won the festival's second-ever gender-neutral acting prize for her performance in "Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush." The film by German director Andreas Dresen tells the true story of a mother's battle to bring her son back from Guantanamo Bay.
Kaptan dedicated the award "to all the mothers whose love is stronger than borders."
Six of the festival's seven top prizes went to women, including the gong for best director, clinched by France's Claire Denis for "Both Sides of the Blade."
A tense pandemic-era love story, the film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman caught between two men – her longtime partner Jean and her elusive ex Francois.
"The Novelist's Film," an understated drama from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo with a small cast of characters who reconnect by chance in the suburbs of Seoul, bagged second prize.
Third prize went to "Robe of Gems," a gritty Mexican crime drama from writer-director Natalia Lopez Gallardo that explores the trauma inflicted on families in Mexico when relatives go missing.
The award for best screenplay went to Laila Stieler for her work on "Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush."
"Everything Will Be OK," Cambodian Rithy Panh's exploration of a dystopian future where animals have enslaved humans and taken over the world, won a Silver Bear for artistic contribution.
Meanwhile, Michael Koch's meditation on death and loss set in the Alps, "A Piece of Sky," received a special mention.
Set in Catalonia, "Alcarras" follows the story of the Soles, a large, tight-knit family who spend their summers picking peaches in their orchard in a small village.
But when they are threatened with eviction due to new plans for the land, which include cutting down the peach trees and installing solar panels, the family members start to grow apart.
Jury chief Shyamalan praised the film's cast of non-professional actors, who he said were able to "show the tenderness and struggle of family" and highlight "our connection and dependence on the land around us."
Variety called it a "lovely, bittersweet agricultural drama," praising Simon's "warm affinity for this alternately parched and verdant landscape."
Simon, who grew up in the village of Alcarras and whose family also grow peaches, dedicated the prize to the "small families of farmers that cultivate the land every day for this food to get to our plates."