The beleaguered populace of Thailand, wracked by political turmoil and violence and chaos in The Streets for the past month, finally got some news to cheer about Sunday. A film by celebrated Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives ( Long Boonmee Raluek Chat ) , was awarded the Cannes Film Festival's top Palme d'Or prize. The award by the festival jury, headed by Tim Burton, came as a surprise to most of the hundreds of journalists who had covered the festival. The film, which did not premiere until Friday, had not been accompanied by much buzz, and Apichatpong's news conference earlier in the day was attended relatively lightly. At it, he remarked that he almost was unable to attend the festival because government offices and embassies that he needed to visit in order to secure a passport and visa were located at the center of Bangkok near the demonstrations and were either shut down or operating with skeleton staffs. As he drove through the city, he said, "The situation was very tense. ... You could see the smoke, the black smoke coming -- it's like a movie, and it was sad at the same time. And then the government announced a curfew, and there was a rumor that there would be shooting all over Bangkok, and bombs. You had until 8 00 [to get off the streets], so at 7 00 I drove to the hotel near the airport to spend the night to make sure that I can get on the plane," he said. Accepting his award Sunday evening at the Palais des Festivals, Apichatpong clearly seemed overwhelmed that his journey had ended on such a high note. "This is like another world for me... this is surreal," he said before thanking "all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand who made it possible for me to be here." Some of those spirits are cast in his film, about a man dying of kidney failure, who is visited by his dead wife and reincarnated son. Uncle Boonmee is set in the northern jungles of Thailand, where many of the red-shirt protesters come from. That is where Apichatpong himself comes from, and he did not hesitate to lend his voice to their cause. Thailand today, he said at Friday's news conference, "is controlled by a group of mafia."