The film – shot entirely in black and white - is a downbeat tale of two women wrestling with the aftermath of the Holocaust, Catholic guilt and Communism in 1962 Poland.
“It's been a great year for Poland,” said director Pawel Pawlikowski on receiving the award.
Pawlikowski also picked up the award for Best European Director and the People's Choice Award chosen by members of the public, which Pawlikowski greeted with genuine surprise.
“This is surreal – people choosing us? We made a black and white film with a camera that doesn't move!” Pawklikowski joked.
"Direction – who knows what it is? Sometimes you think a director's just some spiv who hires people and lets them get on with it," he said.
France's Marion Cotillard was named Best Actress for her role in 'Two Days, One Night'. Despite not being present she sent a message via cellphone saying working on the film had been “one of my best experiences as an actress.”
The Lifetime Achievement award went to French New Wave legend Agnes Varda, director of such classics as 'La Pointe Courte' and 'Vagabond' who thanked a host of her collaborators over 60 years including Philippe Poiret and Alain Resnais but called for more women to be represented at film awards saying:
I think there are not enough women in the nominees. I think more women should be chosen.”
The statuette for Achievement in World Cinema was presented to Briton Steve McQueen who said cinema could “push forward the idea of humanity” and dedicated his award to the late French film director Jean Vigo whom he described as “an anarchist, a realist, and a lover of life.”
English actor Timothy Spall was named Best Actor for his role in 'Mr Turner'. He paid tribute to director Mike Leigh and was abashed at receiving his award, saying: “Its a real surprise – such a surprise I wore my silly shoes because I wanted to cheer myself up."
"Awards are such a bizarre thing," Spall said. "It's like a great big basket of fruit... you can't really compare a banana to a pineapple or an apple to an orange – it's sometimes just a matter of taste or luck."