Germany's "The Lives of Others," a political thriller about spying in 1980s East Berlin, won the Academy Award for best foreign language film Sunday, upsetting favorite "Pan's Labyrinth" from Mexico.
The film marked the feature debut of German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who had previously made short films and done some TV work.
On stage, von Donnersmarck thanked his actors and crew and had a special word of thanks for fellow native German speaker Arnold Schwarzenegger, "for teaching me that the words `I can't' should be stricken from my vocabulary,"' von Donnersmarck said.
In the film, a member of the Stasi, the East German secret police, bugs the apartment of a playwright and his live-in girlfriend, not because he suspects they have done anything to undermine the state but because his boss, the minister of state security, wants her for himself.
But soon, the spy begins to identify with his subjects, and characters that could easily have become caricatures are portrayed as complex humans.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated the director and actors of the film, her spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, said in Berlin.
"The Oscar is a fantastic vindication for this impressive film with an authentic German tale," Wilhelm said.
Mexico was counting on "Pan's Labyrinth" to break its Oscar losing streak. The country had been nominated six time previously, including in 2000 for the film "Amores Perros" and in 2002 for "El Crimen del Padre Amaro."
"Pan's Labyrinth" won other awards early in the show, including art direction, makeup and cinematography. The film was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, whose previous films include "Hellboy" and "Blade II."
Backstage, von Donnersmarck paid tribute to del Toro and the strong slate of other contenders in the category, reports AP.
"He is a genius," von Donnersmarck said. "In a way, I'm sad for Guillermo, but not that sad."