U.S. director Terrence Malick won the Palme d'Or for best picture at the Cannes film festival Sunday for The Tree of Life, a meditative, metaphysical epic starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

Only his fifth feature, the two-hour 20-minute contemplation on the origins of life and where we go when we die was among the favourites to walk off with the coveted award, one of the most prized in the movie calendar after the Oscars.

The semi-recluse did not personally accept his prize, which rewards a movie that has been in the making since 2005.

Awards presented at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, chosen by a jury headed by U.S. actor Robert De Niro.:

-Palme d'Or (Golden Palm): The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick (United States)

-Grand Prize: Shared between The Kid with the Bike by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (Belgium) and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)

-Jury Prize: Poliss by Maiwenn (France)

-Best Director: Nicolas Winding Refn for Drive (Denmark)

-Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist (France)

-Best Actress: Kirsten Dunst, Melancholia (film from Denmark, actress from United States)

-Best Screenplay: Joseph Cedar, Footnote (Israel)

-Camera d'Or (first-time director): Las Acacias by Pablo Giorgelli (Argentina)

-Best short film: Country by Maryna Vroda (Ukraine)