Chinese director Lu Chuan s account of the Japanese occupation of Nanjing in 1937, City of Life and Death, won the top award Saturday at the San Sebastian film festival.
A Spanish actor with Down s Syndrome, Pablo Pineda, picked up the best actor prize at the festival in the northern Spanish coastal city for his role in Yo, Tambien ( Me Too ), the jury announced.
Spain s Lola Duenas was honored as best actress for her role in the same film, about a man with Down s Syndrome who earns a university degree and then falls in love with a colleague at work.
The best director prize went to Spain s Javier Rebollo for La Mujer Sin Piano ( Woman Without Piano ) while the four writers of the Australian film Blessed took the best screenplay award.
City of Life and Death won the Golden Shell award over 14 other films in the competition, as well as the prize for best cinematography.
Thank you to the festival, a visibly moved Lu said at the closing ceremony. Outside China nobody really knows this tragedy so it was a dream for me to make this movie. I m very honored to have our work recognized this way.
The film deals in gruesome detail with the killing of what China says were 300,000 defenseless civilians and prisoners of war by Japanese invaders.
But it has angered some Chinese ultra-nationalists, earning Lu at least one death threat, because of its portrayal of the Japanese soldiers as ordinary people caught up in the tragedy of war, rather than blood-thirsty monsters as they are often depicted in China.
This is an important film for history, I wanted to deliver to the world the truth about this massacre, which is little known outside of China, Lu told a news conference in San Sebastian after his film was screened on September 21.
It took me four years to complete it, from preparation to post-production, with a very tight budget, he added.
The film, which lasts two hours and 15 minutes and was filmed in black and white, plainly depicts the executions of civilians and rapes suffered by the Chinese during the three-day siege of Nanjing by Japanese forces.
It alternates between scenes of battles and executions and slower scenes of loving human interactions to convey the horror of the Japanese atrocities from the perspective of both perpetrators and victims.
The movie also depicts efforts by a number of Westerners, including a member of Germany s Nazi party who was working in China for Siemens at the time, to try to protect locals from the Japanese soldiers by setting up and running a refuge area.
He managed to save more than 200,000 Chinese in Nanjing before being deported to Germany and his actions hurt the alliance between Nazi Germany and Japan, according to the movie.
Last year s Golden Shell for best film went to Turkish director Yesim Ustaoglu s Pandora s Box.
Budget constraints meant this year s 57th San Sebastian film festival, the oldest and most prestigious in the Spanish-speaking world, was cut from the usual 10 days to only nine.