South Korean director Bong Joon-ho's raucous social satire Parasite, about a poor family of hustlers who find jobs with a wealthy family, won the Cannes Film Festival's top award, the Palme d'Or, at the weekend.

The win for Parasite marks the first Korean film to win the Palme. In the festival's closing ceremony, jury president Alejandro Inarritu said the choice had been "unanimous" for the nine-person jury.

The genre-mixing film, Bong's seventh, had arguably been celebrated more than others at Cannes this year, hailed by critics as the best yet from the 49-year-old director of Snowpiercer and Okja.

"To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Korean cinema [this year], I think the Cannes Film Festival has offered me a very great gift," Bong said.

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It was the second straight Palme victory for an Asian director. Last year, the award went to Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters, also a compassionate parable about an impoverished family.

"We shared the mystery of the unexpected way this film took us through different genres, speaking in a funny, humorous and tender way of no judgment of something so relevant and urgent and so global," Inarritu said.

Many of the awards were given to social and political stories that depicted geopolitical dramas in localised tales, from African shores to Paris suburbs.

The festival's second place award, the Grand Prize, went to French-Senegalese director Mati Diop's feature-film debut, Atlantics. The film by Diop, the first black female director ever in competition in Cannes, views the migrant crisis from the perspective of Senegalese women left behind after many young men flee by sea to Spain. Sylvester Stallone presented the honour.

Although few quibbled with the choice of Parasite, some had expected Cannes to make history by giving the Palme to a female filmmaker for just the second time. Celine Sciamma's period romance, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, was the Palme pick for many critics this year. Instead, Sciamma ended up with best screenplay.

Director Bong Joon-ho poses with the Palme d'Or award for the film Parasite. Photo / AP
Director Bong Joon-ho poses with the Palme d'Or award for the film Parasite. Photo / AP

In the festival's 72-year history, Jane Campion is the only woman to take the prize, in 1993 for The Piano, tying with Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine.

Best actor went to Antonio Banderas for Pedro Almodovar's reflective drama Pain and Glory. In the film, one of the most broadly acclaimed of the festival, Banderas plays a fictionalised version of Almodovar looking back on his life and career.

"The best is still to come," said Banderas, accepting the award.

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Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who had already twice won the Palme d'Or, took the best-director prize for Young Ahmed, their portrait of a Muslim teenager who becomes radicalised by a fundamentalist imam.

The third-place jury prize, presented by Michael Moore, was split between two socially conscious thrillers: The French director Ladj Ly's feature-film debut, Les Miserables, and Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho's Bacurau.

Ly has called his film an alarm bell about youths living in the Paris housing projects. Filho viewed his Western about a rural Brazilian community defending itself from an invasion as a reflection of President Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil.

Briton Emily Beecham won best actress for her performance in Jessica Hausner's science-fiction drama, Little Joe.

The Camera d'Or, an award for best first feature from across all of Cannes' sections, went to César Díaz's Our Mothers, a drama about the Guatemalan civil war in the 1980s.

Two years ago, Bong was in Cannes' competition with Okja, a movie distributed in North America by Netflix. After it and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories — another Netflix release — premiered at Cannes, the festival ruled all future films in competition needed French theatrical distribution. Netflix has since withdrawn from the festival.

The festival this year released gender breakdowns of its submissions and selections. Cannes said about 27 per cent of its official selections were directed by women. The 21-film main slate included four films directed by women, which tied the festival's previous high.

Quentin Tarantino unveiled his 1960s Los Angeles tale Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, with Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, 25 years after Pulp Fiction won the Palme d'Or.

Tarantino, who attended the closing ceremony, didn't go home empty-handed. A pooch in his film won the annual Palme Dog, given by critics to Cannes' best canine.

- AP