Guillermo del Toro won the Venice Film Festival's top Golden Lion prize on Saturday for his monster thriller "The Shape of Water."
The Mexican director said he hoped his victory would inspire young directors to "have faith in whatever you have faith in."
"In my case, it's monsters," said the 52-year-old director, whose films include "Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth."
The victory gives "The Shape of Water" a boost heading in to Hollywood's awards season.
The film is about a mute young woman, played by Sally Hawkins, who falls for a mysterious sea creature being held at a high-security lab. Many viewers in Venice fell for the movie's audacious mix of genres: It's a monster movie, a Cold War thriller and even, at times, a musical.
A grateful del Toro told an audience at the festival's closing ceremony: "I believe in life. I believe in love and I believe in cinema."
The world's oldest film festival wrapped up Saturday after 11 days that brought stars including George Clooney, Matt Damon and Jennifer Lawrence to the canal-crossed Italian city.
A jury led by American actress Annette Bening chose del Toro's film from among 21 competing at the 74th annual festival — an edition where the world's social divisions and the spectre of climate change resonated through many of the entries.
"The Shape of Water" beat contenders including Clooney's "Suburbicon" and Alexander Payne's "Downsizing."
The runner-up Grand Jury Prize went to Israeli director Samuel Maoz's "Foxtrot," a compelling and surprising study of grief.
France's Xavier Legrand was named best director for his first full-length film "Custody," which also won the festival's first-feature prize.
Palestinian stage veteran Kamel El Basha was named best actor for Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri's drama "The Insult." Britain's Charlotte Rampling took the best actress prize for Andrea Pallaoro's film "Hannah."
Other winners included Warwick Thornton's Australian Western "Sweet Country," which won a Special Jury Prize, and Martin McDonagh's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," which took the trophy for best screenplay.
U.S. actor Charlie Plummer, 18, was named best young performer for portraying a lonely boy who befriends a tired old racehorse in Andrew Haigh's "Lean on Pete."