By THOMAS ADAMSON
CANNES, France - An autobiographical French-Cambodian film, "The Missing Picture," which explores the bloody history of Pol Pot's dictatorship in late 1970s Cambodia, has won the "Un Certain Regard" prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
To rousing applause, director Rithy Panh collected the award at a ceremony Saturday night, expressing his gratitude to be able "to have the freedom to do the films I want to do."
Panh's film, based on his nightmarish memoir "The Elimination," documents his own family's experience under the heavy-handed Communist Party's Khmer Rouge, which resulted in the death of his parents and sisters.
The "Un Certain Regard" accolade, presented one day before the Palme d'Or and decided by a jury of cinema insiders, rewards works from up-and-coming filmmakers or those that transmit original messages and aesthetics.
The premise of the "missing picture" in the film is that because of censorship within Cambodia, no photo exists that documents the atrocities committed against Panh's his family and relatives during Pol Pot's four-year reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.
The tale is told using old documentary footage, or whatever footage remained from the time, which was mainly of propaganda by the dictatorship. To represent his deceased relatives, Panh used hundreds of carefully carved clay figures.
Director Thomas Vinterberg, who was this year's jury president, said he was "very honored to be awarding this prize, which we all agree is for a fantastic movie."
He praised all of the 18 works, which, as well as including several directorial debuts, were made up of a handful from well-known filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola, who opened the category with "The Bling Ring."
"This selection was ferociously non-sentimental but poetic nonetheless. It was political, highly original, sometimes disturbing, varied, but above all unforgettable," Vinterberg said.
"Clay figurines, extreme beauty, violence... systematic humiliation of human nature... are images that will follow us for a long time... Moments that remain in our collective memory, a mirror of our existence," he added.
The "Jury Prize," the category's secondary award, was awarded to the Palestinian film "Omar," a war-torn love story, directed by Hany Abu-Assad.
Vinterberg was one of a five-strong jury that included French actress Ludivine Sagnier and Chinese starlet Zhang Ziyi, who came to the stage wearing a sparkling white couture gown.
Thomas Adamson can be followed at Twitter.com/ThomasAdamsonAP.
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