Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul had an out-of-body experience at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival when he won the Palme d’Or, the world’s most prestigious film award. A nine-member jury led by fellow director Tim Burton chose “Loong Boonmee Raluek Chat” or “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” for the top prize. Weerasethakul, largely considered the dark horse in the competition, was presented the award onstage by Burton while journalists and film critics around the world cheered.

Though Weerasethakul’s film was presented late in the festival, it instantly captured the attention of numerous journalists who joined a long queue of requested interviews with the Thai director. In Weerasethakul’s acceptance speech, the 40-year-old filmmaker said, “This is surreal. I thank all the ghosts and spirits in Thailand that made this possible.”

“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” is considered the most plot-driven of Weerasethakul’s movies and tells the story of a northeastern beekeeper who is afflicted with a fatal kidney disease. With very little time left on Earth, he recalls his past lives, encounters the ghost of his deceased wife and his son, and contemplates the various reasons for his degenerative illness.

As soon as the film premiered, all the major media outlets were brimming with praise. “The Daily Telegraph” awarded the film a perfect five stars and stated, “It’s barely a film; more a floating world. To watch it is to feel many things … There are many elements of this film that remain elusive and secretive. But that’s a large part of its appeal.” The movie ended up winning the top prize over the French drama and predicted favorite, “Of Gods and Men” or “Des hommes et des dieux.”

While the film has garnered praise from critics around the world, Weerasethakul’s win is significant in other ways as well. He is the first Asian Palme d’Or winner since 1997, when Abbas Kiarostami shared the award with Japanese filmmaker Shohei Imamura.

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