Iranian dissident director Jafar Panahi won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the 65th Berlin film festival, for Taxi, his third movie made in defiance of an official ban on his work.
Panahi, 54, who was not able to attend the festival because he is banned from travelling abroad, appears in the film as a Tehran cab driver who swaps stories with real-life residents of the city. A dashboard camera allowed him to film in secret.
Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky, president of the Golden Bear jury, said Panahi had overcome restrictions that had the power to “damage the soul of the artist”.
He added: “Instead of allowing his spirit to be crushed and giving up, instead of allowing himself to be filled with anger and frustration, Jafar Panahi created a love letter to cinema. His film is filled with love for his art, his community, his country and his audience.”
Panahi was represented at the awards ceremony by his niece Hana Saeidi, who appears in the film. She wept as she accepted the statuette on his behalf.
“I’m not able to say anything, I’m too moved,” she said.
Taxi is the first Iranian film to win the Golden Bear since Asghar Farhadi's drama of entangled relationships, A Separation, in 2011.
Panahi's last movie shot in secret, 2013's elegiac Closed Curtain, won a Silver Bear for Best Screenplay, drawing protest from the Iranian government.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed the prize as “an important symbol for artistic freedom”.
Panahi was detained over a documentary he tried to make about the unrest after Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election and was banned from making films for 20 years for “acting against national security and propaganda against the regime”.
In Taxi, he offers his impressions of contemporary Tehran from behind the wheel of a cab. Each person he picks up has a story to tell, an axe to grind or an issue to debate about life in Iran. The film builds to a chilling climax in which the extent and limits of the director's liberties are revealed.
The Silver Bear prizes for acting went to Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay for their performances in the British drama 45 Years.
Chilean drama The Club by Pablo Larrain, about paedophile priests given refuge from justice by the Roman Catholic Church, claimed the runner-up jury prize.