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British director Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or for 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley.' He said the film was a 'very little step in the British confronting their imperialist history.' ((Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press))

British director Ken Loach'scontroversial film about the Irish fight for independence, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, has won the Palme d'Or, the top honourat the Cannes Film Festival.

The award was announced at the close of the influential French festival, which startedMay 17 and ended Sunday.

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, who was president of the jury,said its members wereunanimous in choosing Loach's film.

Set in 1920s Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley tells the story of two brothers, one who is fighting for Irish independence and another who is training as a doctor at a London university until circumstances force him to make a political choice.

It stars Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney.

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Wong Kar-wai, president of the Cannes jury, says its members decided unanimously to award the Palme d'Or to 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley.'

The director, whose previous projects include 11'09''01-September 11 and McLibel, often tackles sensitive political subjects on television and the big screen.

His portrayal of a country under occupation has deliberate resonance for Britain's current overseas involvement in Iraq.

"Our film is about, we hope, a little step, a very little step in the British confronting their imperialist history. And maybe, if we tell the truth about the past, maybe we tell the truth about the present," he said after accepting the award.

Loach, 69, is a first-time winner of the Palme d'Or, but previously won the third-place Jury Prize at Cannes with 1990's Hidden Agenda and 1993's Raining Stones.

French war film wins Grand Prix

The Grand Prix, or runner-up prize, was awarded to another film on the theme of war and its consequences — Flanders, directed by France's Bruno Dumont.

The film is the story of a young and taciturn farmhand, Demester, who is called up to fight a war in an unspecified desert country characterized by Arab snipers.

On Saturday, Chinese director Wang Chao's Luxury Car was named best film in the secondary Cannes competition called "Un Certain Regard."

Luxury Car is a family drama about a retired country teacher who travels to the Chinese city of Wuhan searching for his lost son.

There were 20 films in the main competition at Cannes. Earlier in the week,Spanish veteran Pedro Almodavarhad beenfavoured to win the Palme d'Or for Volver, a comic drama about three generations of women making do without men. Instead he won best screenplay.

Actresses lauded for Almodavar's Volver

Volver also took best actresses honours for the ensemble cast, including Penelope Cruz as a vivacious young mother married to an unemployed labourer and Carmen Maura, as a ghost who haunts Cruz and her sister.Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo and Chus Lampreave also starred.

Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu won the best director for Babel, a multicultural saga about loosely linked families around the globe.

Other winners were:

  • Jury Prize: Red Road by Andrea Arnold of Britain.
  • Best Actors: Jamel Debbouze, Samy Naceri, Roschdy Zem, Sami Bouajila, Bernard Blancan for Days of Glory, from Algeria.
  • Golden Camera (to a first-time director): A Fost Sau N-A Fost?, by Corneliu Porumboiu of Romania.
  • Best short film: Sniffer by Bobbie Peers of Norway.

Three rising Latin American directors werekey contenders at Cannes, among them Inarritu and another Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro.

Del Toro entered a fairy-tale nightmare, Pan's Labyrinth, about a girl who encounters a horned satyr who offers to help her escape everyday life in fascist Spain and live in a magical realm.

Uruguayan filmmaker Israel Adrian Caetano's Buenos Aires 1977, based on the true story of a soccer player wrongly imprisoned and tortured as a terrorist in Argentina, was also in contention.

American directors get mixed response

Films from American directors received mixed receptions in the main competition.

Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, starring Kirsten Dunst, earned praise for its style and visual panache but was criticized as a superficial treatment of the 18th century French queen.

Richard Linklater's consumer satire Fast Food Nation,featuring Greg Kinnear, Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke,got alukewarm reception.

Southland Tales, a darkly comic portrait of impending apocalypse by Donnie Darko director Richard Kelly, failed to fire any imaginations inCannes.

The juryat Cannes this yearwas chaired by Wong, with members including actress Zhang Ziyi, Samuel L. Jackson, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Monica Bellucci.