Russian feature The Last Train (Posledniy Poezd) by Alexei German, Jr swept the floor at the 44th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (Nov 21-30).

The son of the celebrated director of Twenty Days Without War and My Friend Ivan Lapschitz, German's film tells the story of a German military doctor stranded in the Russian countryside after the Soviets unexpectedly counterattack.

It won the top award - the Golden Alexander - which is reserved to first and second films from the14 title-strong competition section put together by the festival director Michel Demopoulos. The film also received the Fipresci award.

The seven member international jury headed by veteran Georgian film maker Otar Iosseliani included Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai, Iran's Jafar Panahi and veteran UK cinematographer Walter Lassaly.

It awarded the Special Jury prize, the Silver Alexander, to the Italian film The Gift (Il Donno) from director Michelangelo Frammartino, who tells the story of the bleak, decaying life of a village in Calabria in a minimalistic, almost docudrama style without the use of dialogue.

The best director trophy went to the Argentinian Ana Y Los Otros ( Ana And The Others) by Celina Murga while the Czech entry Devcatko (Girlie) directed by Benjamin Tucek, received top prizes for its actors Dorota Nvotova and Mario Kubas.

The Greek entry Gamilia Narki (Totally Married) by Dimitris Indares, a stylised, social minded film about married life, received the jury's best script award.

Another local entry, Touch of Spice, was presented in the 28-strong Greek Films 2003 Panorama section and received the Dewars backed audience award for a local film.

Directed Tasos Boulmetis and telling the story of his childhood in the once thriving Greek community in Istanbul, the film has performed strongly at the local box office. Opening just before the festival, it has achieved an impressive 700,000 plus admissions - far ahead of all foreign fare. Pirates Of The Caribbean which has just concluded its commercial run, is behind with 440,000 admissions.

Touch Of Spice is produced by Village Films - the Greek company related to the Australian multinational Village Roadshow.

Other foreign competing productions which were singled out by the Festival's international jury and the audience were: Danehaye Rize Bari (Tiny

Snowflakes) by the Iranian Alireza Amini (Best Artistic Achievement) and Elle Est Des Notres (For She Is A Jolly Good Fellow) by France's Siegried Alnoy (Special Mention for direction).

The Indian entry, Matrubhoomi (A Nation Without Women) received the Dewars Audience Award for best foreign film in competition.