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BERLIN (Reuters) - Mournful Peruvian entry "The Milk of Sorrow" (La Teta Asustada) won the coveted Golden Bear award for best picture at the Berlin film festival on Saturday.
The first Peruvian film in competition at the annual cinema showcase, the story revolves around Fausta, the product of a rape inflicted on her mother during two decades of rebel violence in which around 70,000 people died or disappeared.
After her mother's death, the virtually silent Fausta (played by Magaly Solier) is determined to bury her in her native village but in order to do so must confront the malaise that afflicts her like a sickness.
The title is based on the idea that Fausta's mother passes sorrow on to her daughter through breast milk.
"This is for Peru. This is for our country," director Claudia Llosa told the awards ceremony. "I hope more women will be encouraged by this," she added at a press conference. "We need more women directors, actors, we need more women in films."
Although the slow-paced picture was not among the favorites to scoop the main award from 18 films in competition, it is likely to be a popular winner.
It includes the premise that Fausta has inserted a potato inside herself to prevent her from being raped like her mother, and haunting songs add to the magical realist feel.
The backdrop of violence in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s is omnipresent despite never being portrayed.
The country was shattered by wars by guerrillas seeking to impose communist rule, and in response the military and police committed widespread human rights abuses.
On a big night for South America, Uruguay's "Gigante" picked up two prizes.
Like "The Milk of Sorrow," the picture is low-budget and slow-paced, and follows a supermarket security guard who becomes obsessed by a cleaning lady and begins to stalk her.
It shared the runner-up Silver Bear with German entry "Everyone Else" (Alle Anderen) and the Alfred Bauer award for innovation in filmmaking along with veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda, who presented "Sweet Rush" (Tatarak).
The best director prize went to Iran's Asghar Farhadi for "About Elly" (Darbareye Elly), a popular film about middle-class Iranians who cause disaster when, in order to uphold strict social conventions, they layer lie upon lie.
"A few days ago there was a festival in Iran and this film was screened and it got the award from the people as the best film," he told reporters. "I'm glad my compatriots agree with the opinion of the jury."
The best actress Silver Bear was won by Everyone Else lead Birgit Minichmayr from Austria, and best actor was awarded to Malian Sotigui Kouyate for "London River."
It recounts how two people looking for children missing in the 2005 London suicide attacks forge an unlikely friendship.
Films starring well-known actors were largely shunned, although "The Messenger," in which Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster play army officers who tell next of kin that loved ones died in combat, won the screenplay Silver Bear.
"It (The Messenger) deals with a side of war that is the soldier's perspective," Foster said. "What are the true results of war? That's beneath politics and that's just human loss. Everyone in this room can relate to loss."
Berlin's main competition was seen as weak by critics.
Apart from "The Messenger" and Renee Zellweger's witty 1950s comedy "My One And Only," big Hollywood names failed to shine.
"Mammoth," starring Gael Garcia Bernal, tackled this year's hot-topic issue of globalization, but was panned by critics, as was minimalist fashion spoof "Rage" in which Jude Law plays a cross-dressing model called Minx.
"Happy Tears" had a far-from-happy reception, despite Demi Moore and Parker Posey playing the lead roles.
Editing by Jon Boyle