Lu Chuan’s harrowing drama City Of Life And Death was the surprise winner as San Sebastian came to a close on Saturday, claiming the Golden Shell and shutting out Spanish-language productions including The Secret In Their Eyes and Dancer And The Thief.

Pablo Pineda and Lola Duenas claimed the best actor and actress awards for their performances in the world premiere of Yo, Tambien about a Down’s Syndrome intellectual in love with a woman.

The criticism of Pineda’s performance by some local critics had cast a sour note over proceedings after they suggested the actor, who has Down’s Syndrome, was merely playing himself rather than acting.

However the major upset of the night came as Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes and Fernando Trueba’s Dancer And The Thief emerged from the awards ceremony empty-handed.

Heading into the ceremony The Secret In Their Eyes was regarded by local press as favourite to take the top prize. Campanella’s disappointment may have been tempered somewhat by the fact that his film was selected on Friday as his country’s official Academy Awards contender.

San Sebastian has a reputation for pulling out surprise winners. Lu’s critically-lauded City Of Life And Death, which chronicles the Japenese soldiers’ massacre of the Chinese in Nanking, also picked up the best cinematography award.

This year’s Silver Shell for best director was won by Javier Rebollo for his technically astute arthouse film La Mujer Sin Piano, a world premiere in competition at San Sebastian. 

Gustavo Ferrada, head of film at Spanish broadcaster TVE who is selling La Mujer, expressed hope that the win would improve the chance of foreign sales and set up a strong run on the channel

In other key awards, Francois Ozon’s Le Refuge picked up the Special Jury Prize, Ana Kokkinos’ torrid Australian family drama Blessed won best screenplay, and Lee Daniels’ Precious took the Audience Award. 

Awards in full 

Golden shell for best film:City Of Life And Death (Lu Chuan)  
Special jury prize: Le Refuge (Francois Ozon)  
Silver shell for best director: Javier Rebollo (La Mujer Sin Piano)  
Silver shell for best actress: Lola Duenas (Yo, Tambien)  
Silver shell for best actor: Pablo Pineda (Yo, Tambien)  
Jury prize for best screenplay: Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas (Blessed) Jury prize for best cinematography: Cao Yu (City Of Life And Death)  
Kutxa New Directors Award: Philippe Van Leeuw (Le Jour Ou Dieu Est Parti En Voyage)  
Horizontes Award:Gigante (Adrian Biniez)  
TCM Audience Award:Precious (Lee Daniels)  
European film award:Desert Flower (Sherry Hormann
Youth award:The Children Of Diyarbakir ( Miraz Bezar)  
FIPRESCI award:Los Condenados (Isaki Lacuesta)