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CANNES, France (Reuters) - "The Square", a Swedish movie about the curator of a museum filled with grotesquely pretentious conceptual art, beat stiff competition to win the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday.
Critics hailed the movie by writer-director Ruben Ostlund as "high-wire cinema" that veers between comedy and thriller with moments of pure surrealism, though some said it could easily have shed part of its 2 hours and 22 minutes running time.
The film's highlight is a dinner for the museum's well-to-do patrons, with a performance artist leaping from table to table impersonating an ape in a bizarre, tense and ultimately violent scene.
Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who headed the jury of nine people that included Hollywood stars Will Smith and Jessica Chastain, said the film was about "the dictatorship of being politically correct".
"Such a serious subject is treated with an incredible imagination. It is very, very, very funny," he said.
"BPM (Beats Per Minute)", a French movie about AIDS awareness campaigners in the 1980s, had been favourite for the award but had to settle for second place, taking the Grand Prize of the Jury, something Almodovar seemed to regret.
"This is a very democratic jury and I am the ninth part of this jury," he said and fought back tears as he talked of the film's portrayal of "real heroes that saved many lives".
Sofia Coppola won best director for "The Beguiled", a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood tale of sexual tension between an injured soldier in the American Civil War and the women and girls who take him in.
Although members of the jury said she was the first woman to win that prize, the history books show that Soviet director Yuliya Solntseva won it in 1961.
Nicole Kidman, who starred alongside Colin Farrell in "The Beguiled" and "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" missed out on the best actress trophy but was awarded a special prize, collecting the jury's 70th Anniversary Award.
Best actress went to Diane Kruger for her performance in German film "In the Fade", playing a woman trying to put her life back together after her husband and young son are killed in a bomb attack. It was her first role in her native German.
Joaquin Phoenix was named best actor for his portrayal of a psychologically damaged hitman in "You Were Never Really Here" by British director Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, who shared the prize for best screenplay with the writers of “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou.
Video-streaming company Netflix, which had two acclaimed movies in competition, left empty handed. It's lack of succes should have come as no surprise, given that Almodovar said at the start of the festival that the Palme d'Or should not go a movie that would not be given a theatrical release.
Editing by David Goodman