Victory is first for a Thai-directed entry

CANNES — It may not have been a stellar year for the Cannes competition, but one of the few roundly admired titles, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” took the Palme d’Or from the jury of the 63rd Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night.

An arresting and imaginative cinematic oddity touching on themes of animism and reincarnation, “Uncle Boonmee” is the first Thai-directed film to receive the fest’s top honor.

Easily the most idiosyncratic film in competition, pic premiered late in the fest to much appreciative laughter and sustained applause, and repped a fittingly independent-minded choice in a year slim on studio fare. The sole American competition entry, Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” went away empty-handed.

“The world is getting smaller, more Westernized, more Hollywoodized, whatever, and this is a film that … came from another perspective,” jury president Tim Burton told reporters at the press conference. “I felt (watching it) was like a beautiful, strange dream.”

Accepting his Palme in an all-white tuxedo, Weerasethakul expressed his desire to kiss every member of the jury and paused to tell Burton, “I really like your hairstyle.”

Helmer, who is affectionately known in the film world simply as “Joe,” is now three for three at Cannes, having previously won the jury prize for 2004’s “Tropical Malady” and Un Certain Regard’s trophy for 2002’s “Blissfully Yours.”

The Grand Prix was awarded to Xavier Beauvois’ “Of Gods and Men,” a resonant, fact-based account of French Trappist monks under siege in 1996 Algeria. The French helmer had previously won the 1995 Cannes jury prize for “Don’t Forget You’re Going to Die.”

“Of Gods and Men,” which also scooped the top prize from the Cannes ecumenical jury, bowed to strongly favorable reaction midfest and was picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Specialty distrib continues its string of Cannes coups, having also released Palme winners, “The Class” (2008) and “The White Ribbon” (2009), and last year’s Grand Prix honoree, “A Prophet.”

The jury prize was given to Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s father-son drama “A Screaming Man,” the first Chadian entry to compete at Cannes.

Juliette Binoche, who graced this year’s official Cannes poster, took the actress laurels for her role in Abbas Kiarostami’s Tuscan two-hander, “Certified Copy,” which was picked up for release by IFC Films. Binoche struck an emotional note in her speech by urging the world to remember Kiarostami’s countryman and protege, imprisoned Iranian helmer Jafar Panahi, who went on a hunger strike May 16 to protest his mistreatment by Iranian authorities.

Panahi was slated to be a member of the jury this year; in his honor, a seat was left empty at competition screenings and onstage at Sunday’s Kristin Scott Thomas-hosted ceremony.

Sharing the actor award were Javier Bardem, for his performance in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful,” and Elio Germano, for his work in Daniele Luchetti’s “Our Life.”

French actor-helmer Mathieu Amalric won the director kudo for “On Tour,” adding to the Fipresci international critics’ prize he picked up over the weekend — a surprise to many, given the film’s generally wan reception. Amalric provided the evening’s most colorful photo op when he was joined onstage by the burlesque performers who appeared in the pic.

Screenplay honors went to South Korean writer-director Lee Chang-dong for “Poetry,” one of the competition’s better-received selections. Lee, who served on last year’s Cannes jury, was previously in competition with 2007’s “Secret Sunshine,” which drew the actress award for Jeon Do-yeon.

Along with the Un Certain Regard prize for Hong Sang-soo’s “Hahaha,” announced Saturday, Lee’s win made it quite a weekend for South Korea, which was strongly represented in the official selection (Im Sang-soo’s “The Housemaid” also screened in competition).

The Camera d’Or jury, headed by Gael Garcia Bernal, presented its award for first feature to Michael Rowe’s sexy debut, “Leap Year,” which screened in Directors’ Fortnight.

Generally applauded by the press corps assembled in the Palais des Festivals, the jury’s choices seemed to reflect a much friendlier, less fractious group than last year’s Isabelle Huppert-led panel. Onstage, Burton expressed his gratitude to his “new family of the past two weeks,” and at the press conference, juror Emmanuel Carrere likened the experience to “being on a reality TV series. … We got on well together.”

In other Cannes news, the Un Certain Regard jury, headed by helmer Claire Denis, gave a jury prize to Daniel and Diego Vega’s “October” and a special prize to actresses Adela Sanchez, Eva Bianco and Victoria Raposo for Argentine entry “The Lips.”

In addition to Bardem’s actor prize, “Biutiful” scored the Prix Vulcain technical award for Leslie Shatz’s sound work.

The Critics’ Week Grand Prix went to Janus Metz’s Afghanistan-shot documentary “Armadillo.”

Directors’ Fortnight prizes went to French helmer Fabienne Berthaud’s “Lily Sometimes,” recognized by the CICAE Intl. Confederation of Art Cinemas, and Belgian director Olivier Masset-Depasse’s “Illegal,” cited by the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers.

(Rob Nelson contributed to this report.)

INTL. COMPETITION JURY PRIZES

Palme d’Or

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Spain-Thailand-Germany-U.K.-France)

Grand Prix

“Of Gods and Men” (Xavier Beauvois, France)

Director

Mathieu Amalric (“On Tour,” France)

Jury prize

“A Screaming Man” (Mahamet-Saleh Haroun, France-Belgium-Chad)

Actor

Javier Bardem (“Biutiful,” Mexico-Spain) and Elio Germano (“Our Life,” Italy)

Actress

Juliette Binoche (“Certified Copy,” France-Italy-Iran)

Screenplay

Lee Chang-dong (“Poetry,” South Korea)

UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY AWARDS

Main prize

“Hahaha” (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

Jury prize

“October” (Daniel Vega, Diego Vega)

Special prize

Adela Sanchez, Eva Bianco, Victoria Raposo, “The Lips” (Ivan Fund, Santiago Losa, Argentina) 

OTHER MAIN JURY AWARDS

Camera d’Or

“Leap Year” (Michael Rowe, Mexico)

Critics’ Week Grand Prix

“Armadillo” (Janus Metz, Denmark)

SHORT FILMS JURY PRIZES

Palme d’Or

“Barking Island” (Serge Avedikian)

Jury prize

“Bathing Micky” (Frida Kempff)

UN CERTAIN REGARD JURY AWARDS

Main Prize

“Hahaha” (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

Jury Prize

“October” (Daniel Vega, Diego Vega)

Special Prize

Adela Sanzhez, Eva Bianco, Victoria Raposo, “The Lips” (Ivan Fund, Santiago Losa, Argentina)

FIPRESCI AWARDS

Competition

“On Tour” (Mathieu Amalric, France)

Un Certain Regard

“Adrienn Pal” (Agnes Kocsis, Hungary)

Directors’ Fortnight

“You Are All Captains” (Olivier Laxe, Spain)

CINEFONDATION

First Prize

“The Painting Sellers” (Juho Kuosmanen)

Second Prize

“Anywhere Out of the World” (Vincent Cardona)

Third Prize

“The Fifth Column” (Vatche Boulghourjian) and “I Already Am Everything I Want to Have” (Dane Komljen)

ECUMENICAL PRIZE

“Of Gods and Men” (Xavier Beauvois, France)

PRIX VULCAIN TECHNICAL AWARD

Leslie Shatz (“Biutiful,” Mexico-Spain)

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