Thai wins top film prize at Cannes

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d'Or top prize at the Cannes film festival Sunday for a surreal reincarnation tale, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives".

Spanish actor Javier Bardem, who plays a terminally-ill hustler in "Biutiful" by Mexico's Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, shared the best actor award with Italy's Elio Germano.

And France's Juliette Binoche was named best actress for her role as an unhappy antiques dealer in "Certified Copy" by Iran's Abbas Kiarostami.

Apichatpong was a surprise best film winner after critics strongly tipped French director Xavier Beauvois, who took the runner-up Grand Prix for "Of Gods and Men", about Catholic monks threatened by Islamists in Algeria.

"This is like another world for me... this is surreal," Apichatpong told a packed festival hall after receiving the Palme d'Or from the head of the festival jury, US film-maker Tim Burton.

The 39-year-old director thanked "the spirits... in Thailand that surrounded us" while making the film, a hypnotic tale featuring a humanoid monkey ghost and a disfigured princess having sex with a catfish.

Frenchman Mathieu Amalric won the best director prize for "On Tour," about a troupe of buxom American stripteasers touring French seaside towns, while South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's "Poetry" scooped best screenplay.

Hundreds of celebrity-spotters lined the waterfront around the festival hall ahead of Sunday night's gala ceremony.

Critics have widely pegged this year's edition of the world's biggest film festival as more low-key than usual, with fewer big stars and hit movies.

But the main competition still drew some big names, including three former Palme winners: Britons Mike Leigh and Ken Loach plus Kiarostami.

Five Asian works were competing on Sunday, including another South Korean film, "The Housemaid".

Cannes had asked Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi to sit on the jury but he was prevented from attending. He has been in jail in Tehran since March, accused by authorities of planning a film against the country's Islamic leaders.

The French government and the festival demanded Panahi's release and the film-maker himself spoke out against his detention in a letter to Cannes organisers.

Controversy also erupted over "Outside the Law", a violent thriller about Algeria's independence struggle which sparked rowdy demonstrations by protestors who accused director Rachid Bouchareb of rewriting history.

Also at the ceremony was Charlotte Gainsbourg, who won the prize for best actress last year for her role in Lars Von Trier's erotic shocker, "Antichrist".

The French actress was presenting the last film of this year's festival - "The Tree", a Franco-Australian movie directed by Julie Bertuccelli which screens out of competition.

Last year the Palme went to Austrian director Michael Haneke for "The White Ribbon".

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