A lurid underworld drama starring Bruce Willis and John Travolta and employing a complex, non-linear story structure, Pulp Fiction was screened to the press late in the festival on Friday to a mixed reception.
But many observers thought it likely that a United States film would take the main prize: the major Holywood studios and stars were largely absent from Cannes this year, and it was speculated that the festival desperately needs to woo them back.
Tarantino's first film, Reservoir Dogs, has not been cleared for video release in Britain, and the violence in Pulp Fiction may also cause problems with the British Board of Film Classification. The Best Actor award went to Ge You for his role in To Live, the story of a family struggling to survive 30 years of Chinese history, by the director Zhang Yimou.
The veteran Italian actress Virna Lisa was named Best Actress for her courageous performance as Catherine de Medicis in the French historical epic film La Reine Margot.
Italy's Nanni Moretti won the Best Director prize for Caro Diario, which combines the comic with the serious in Moretti's fight against cancer.
The Grand Jury Prize was shared by two films, To Live, and the Russian Burnt by the Sun, by Nikita Mikhalkov.
The most surprising omission from the line-up was Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red, the third part of his Three Colours trilogy and a critical hit at the festival.
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