Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar, France's equivalent of the Oscars, while "Timbuktu" won seven awards including best film for its portrayal of northern Mali under jihadist control.
"Twilight" star Stewart received the best supporting actress award on Friday for her role alongside Juliette Binoche in "Clouds of Sils Maria".
Directed by France's Olivier Assayas, 24-year-old Stewart plays the personal assistant to a star actress played by Binoche and follows their intense, sexually-charged relationship.
The victory for "Timbuktu" could propel it towards greater glory at the Oscars on Sunday, where it is nominated for the best foreign film award.
Abderrahmane Sissako, who also won a Cesar for best director among the film's haul of awards, said he wanted to show the residents of the ancient city struggling to maintain their daily lives in the face of the brutal rule of jihadists who seized a large portion of Mail's vast desert in 2012.
Most of the film had to be made in Sissako's native Mauritania as northern Mali, despite being freed from jihadist control by a French military intervention, remains an extremely dangerous place, especially for foreigners.
In his acceptance speech, Sissako -- who became the first black African to win the best director Cesar -- praised French people for taking to the streets in their millions after the Islamist attacks in Paris last month that left 17 dead.