Apichatpong Weerasethakul: "I would like to kiss the jury"
The Cannes Film Festival has given its top prize, the Palme d'Or, to the mystical Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
It beat British director Mike Leigh's Another Year, which was seen as the favourite by many at the French event.
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the winning film is about a dying man who is visited by his late wife and his missing son, who has become an ape.
US director Tim Burton led the jury that picked the victor from 19 entries.
Uncle Boonmee is played by Thanapat Saisaymar, a roof welder from north-east Thailand whose previous acting experience was limited to TV commercials.
Suffering kidney failure, the character is visited by a selection of spiritual beings, both human and animal, as the director uses a dreamlike style to examine the themes of reincarnation and animism.
Variety magazine described it as "wonderfully nutty", while Screen International called it "a beautifully entrancing film
simple in story but complex in structure and subtext".
The UK's Telegraph newspaper gave it a five-star review, noting it was "barely a film; more a floating world".
Accepting his trophy, Weerasethakul said: "I would like to thank all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to be here."
The director had previously won the third-place jury prize at Cannes with his 2004 film Tropical Malady.
Although it gained a glowing response from critics in Cannes, his latest film was considered a dark horse in the race for the Palme d'Or.
Leigh's Another Year, starring Jim Broadbent and Lesley Manville, stood out for many critics.
Cannes winners Binoche and Bardem
But Leigh, who won the Palme d'Or for Secrets and Lies in 1996, went home empty-handed.
Tim Burton, who chaired the nine-member jury, said: "Each and every one of us has some favorites that didn't make it."
Fellow judge Kate Beckinsale joked: "We tried to invent more prizes."
Critics had also tipped French director Xavier Beauvois' solemn drama Of Gods and Men, telling the true story of seven French monks who were killed in Algeria in 1996.
That film took the grand prize, putting it in second place.
French actress Juliette Binoche won best actress for her role as a gallery owner in Tuscany in the romantic drama Copie Conforme (Certified Copy), directed by Iran's Abbas Kiarostami.
Palme d'Or - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Best director - Mathieu Amalric for On Tour
Best actress - Juliette Binoche for Certified Copy
Best actor- Javier Bardem for Biutiful and Elio Germano for Our Life (shared)
Best screenplay - Lee Chang-Dong for Poetry
Grand Prix - Of Gods and Men directed by Xavier Beauvois
Jury Prize - A Screaming Man directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Kiarostami earned the Palme d'Or in 1997 with Taste of Cherry.
Spain's Javier Bardem was joint winner of the best actor accolade for playing a corrupt policeman who is diagnosed with terminal cancer.
He appears in Biutiful by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, best known for Babel and 21 Grams.
Bardem shared the prize with Italian actor Elio Germano for La Nostra Vita.
The prize for best director went to actor-turned-filmmaker Mathieu Amalric for his story of the struggling manager of a burlesque dance troupe, Tournee (On Tour).
South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's Poetry took the best screenplay prize.
Ken Loach, another British arthouse heavyweight, also lost out four years after winning the festival's top accolade for The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
His new movie, Route Irish, is a revenge drama based around the deployment of private security contractors in Iraq.