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Red faces on the red carpet at director's Palme d'Or no-show

The Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or is a trophy any self-respecting director would want to see alongside an Academy Award on the mantlepiece.

However that didn't stop US director Terrence Malick from shunning yesterday evening's gala ceremony after his critically-acclaimed film The Tree of Life won the award.

The notoriously publicity-shy director failed to pick up the trophy, which was instead accepted by two of the film's producers.

"I have some very big boots to fill, as Terrence is very shy and I managed to speak to him earlier and he was very happy," said producer William Pohlad.

The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn, is Malick's first time in competition in Cannes since 1979.

He avoided all public promotional appearances for the project at the festival and does not allow his photograph to be used to promote his films.

"I believe I can speak for him," said Pitt earlier this week, on Malick's lack of visibility. "He thinks of himself as building a house. And I don't know why it is expected in our business that people who make things are then expected to sell them."

The Grand Prix, the evening's second most prestigious award, was a tie between Belgian filmmaking brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's The Kid With a Bike and Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. French director Maïwenn won the festival's Jury Prize for Polisse.

One of the evening's surprises was Kirsten Dunst claiming the festival's best actress award for Lars von Trier's apocalyptic drama Melancholia. Von Trier was declared persona non grata by festival organisers on Thursday morning for telling the world's media earlier this week that he "understood Hitler". "Thank you so much, what a week it has been," said Dunst. "Thank you so much to the jury for and it is an honour and a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

She also thanked von Trier for "the opportunity" and said it was a "special night". The best actor award was picked up by French actor Jean Dujardin for his role in highly-praised romance The Artist.

Best screenplay went to Israel's Joseph Cedar for Footnote, the story of rivalry between a father and son, both Israeli professors. "It is a privilege to receive this award, and I'd like to thank the jury for recognising [us]," said Cedar. The Caméra d'Or, the festival's award for a first-time director, went to Argentinian director Pablo Giorgelli for road movie Las Acacias.

"It was a very civil experience and all the fellow jurors were great and all had different tastes and feelings about things," said jury president Robert de Niro. "We had a good time and I feel like I made some new friends. For me there is a lot of drama making a movie... it should be on screen and not behind screen."