A new documentary takes a different approach in narrating His Majesty the late King’s childhood and adolescence in Switzerland
LIKE MOST Thais, Manatsanun “Donut” Phanlerdwongsakul remembers clearly the evening of October 13 last year when it was announced that His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has passed away. Her first reaction was to turn to her friend Pornmanus Rattanavich and tell her that she wanted to do something in memory of the late King. Thus was born the documentary “The Journey…Bunthuek Thang Klai Thueng Phor”.
Over the next few weeks, Donut buried her nose in books about the late Monarch’s life. That research led her to “King Bhumibol and the Thai Royal Family in Lausanne” penned by Lysandre C Seraidaris, who coincidentally happened to be Bangkok at the time and was happy to meet up with Donut.
Director Manatsanun “Donut” Phanlerdwongsakul, sitting right, and Lysandre C Seraidaris, left, on the set of “The Journey…Bunthuek Thang Klai Thueng Phor”
The son of Cleon C Seraidaris, King Bhumibol’s private tutor during his childhood in Lausanne, Lysandre was granted permission by the late Monarch to write about his time in Switzerland, based on his father’s collections of letters, personal photographs and documents from the family archive.
“The Journey”, much of which is filmed in Switzerland, is a feature documentary that looks back on the young King’s childhood and adolescence in Lausanne until his return to Thailand to accede to the throne.
“People have different ways of coping with grief and Donut’s way has been to dwell on King Bhumibol’s past and record it for posterity,” says Pornmanus, who co-wrote the script.
Countless films and documentaries have chronicled the late King’s life in Switzerland over the years and Donut admits that she worried about making her story stand out from the rest. “But it came out as I expected and I’m confident that ‘The Journey’ tells the story in a different way whilst never straying from the facts or the timeline,” she says, adding that as protocol demands, she submitted the project details to the Bureau of the Royal Household for approval before going ahead.
In the documentary, Donut plays a young woman who sets out on a journey to visit the places to which the late King Bhumibol travelled, from Lausanne to Paris where he met the Queen Sirikit for the first time at Fontainebleau, and back to Thailand when the Royal Couple returned here.
She travelled to Europe to film on three occasions, painstakingly gathering rare archival material from the United States, England, Switzerland and also Thailand. Narrated by the director herself, the documentary also features the voices of actress Sansanee Wattananukul and actor Teerapat Sajakul.
The film also includes some never-before-seen footage of the King’s last day in Lausanne in 1951 and screenshots of the letters sent by the late King to his private tutor.
The director during the filming in Switzerland
“It is the first time I’ve shared the letters for the screen. I’ve had plenty of approaches over the years but it wasn’t until I met Donut that I knew I had the right person,” says Lysandre, who has kept the hundreds of letters and photographs he inherited from his father.
Donut adds that convincing Lysandre to allow her to film the archive wasn’t easy. “In fact, he only allowed us to shoot the documents last month,” she says.
Lysandre also came on board, as project consultant and gives an interview in the documentary.
“She told me what she wanted to do and after reflection, I agreed. Unlike the other project proposals I have received, I felt this beautiful story should rightly be told to Thai people,” Lysandre says, adding that he has no regrets at showing his entire historical archive to the director to shoot in the documentary.
“She captured exactly the sentiments I was trying to convey to the Thai people while also creating an artistic film. I didn’t offer any advice but I know she used sensitivity. I haven’t seen the documentary yet but I’m she has understood and has done a good job,” he continues.
“The other filmmakers who interviewed me just wanted information. Donut was different. She was going to create something in the right spirit. The information she needed to was to help her to create something beautiful.”
Filming the late King’s letters in Lausanne, Switzerland
The letters are only part of the story. Donut has also used information from other books and archives, among them “Mua Khapachao Chak Siam Ma Soo Switzerland” (“When I Left Siam for Switzerland”), the late Monarch’s own series of diary-style articles detailing his preparations for his trip back to Switzerland for further education in August 1946 after acceding to throne in June that year.
“The film reveals how these journeys changed the late King, especially when he travelled back to Switzerland after the death of his brother. His journals reflect how lonely he felt at the time while also recording the beginning of his interest in photography,” she says.
“I love travelling because we change as we continue our journey. The destination is not as important as what we encounter along the way. His Majesty the late King Bhumibol’s journey in this film will inspire us all,” Donut says.
The director and the crew during the filming in Switzerland
Stephane Lambert, who co-produced the project, says at the heart of the documentary is a point of view. “You try to give the facts as precisely as possible in a documentary and these are combined with the director’s point of view. The stronger that point of view is, the more interesting the documentary becomes,” he says.
“I was born in France so my understanding is very different. We are hoping that this documentary will also appeal also to an international audience who want to understand why the relationship between people in Thailand and His Majesty King Rama 9 is so intense. It's not about politics and it's not about history; it's really about a very deep and strong bond and if we can bring some understanding and shed new light on this relationship through this story, we will be very pleased,” Lambert says.
Donut’s message has also attracted support. Despite starting with nothing, the project has gradually drawn official sponsorship from such industry giants as Thai Beverage, Thai Airways International, Total Access Communication (DTAC), and SF Corporation,
“The Journey” will be screened at SF Cinemas from Thursday to Sunday in the Bangkok area and on Friday and Saturday nationwide. It also shows at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Thursday and Friday and at Bangkok Screening Room on Soi Sala Daeng 1 from October 20 to 28. Admission is free. From next year, the documentary will be screened on all Thai Airways flights until the end of 2019.
TRAVELLING ALONG MEMORY LANE
“The Journey” screens in the auditorium of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on Thursday at 1pm, 3pm and 7pm and on Friday at 3pm, 5pm and 7pm. A discussion with the production team follows the last screening. Visit www.Bacc.or.th
For updates and showtimes elsewhere, check www.SFCinemaCity.com and https://BkkSR.com/movies.
Watch the trailer at. www.YouTube.com/watch?v=qa_588JWqu4