When the Brother Hilaire Foundation – a charity project under Assumption College, a well regarded boys’ Catholic school in Thailand – discovered that funds were ebbing away, it looked for a new campaign to raise interest.
Instead of asking for help from well-to-do alumni, the foundation took the unique step of making a film about Brother Hilaire, the legendary French priest who became dean of Assumption College Bang Rak and author of Daroon Suksa, a Thai grammar textbook. With no previous experience in Thai, the priest came to love the language and excel at it, and after nine years of studying he wrote a textbook on it.
“The movie is not about Assumption College and the school’s beloved schoolmaster per se. It is about a unique personality who did a great service for this country,” said Reverend Brother Louis Chanel, or Viriya Chantavarodom, president of the Brother Hilaire Foundation, during the premiere of F.Hilaire at Paragon Cineplex in March.
The film involved professional actors and crew, with Surussavadi Chuarchart responsible for directing and Jason Young, a local Australian-Thai actor, assuming the role of Brother Hilaire.
For Ms Surussavadi, the challenge of making F.Hilaire was how to make the film current and relevant.
“We tried not to just make a biography about the past,” she said. “We are making a film for modern audiences.”
The film-makers decided to create a fictitious character to add a modern-day element to the film. That character is Pongsatorn, a cocky, lazy graduate student and Thai language teacher doing a master’s thesis on the life of the French priest. Acted by Pharanyu Rojanawuthitham, the character reflects a common stereotype of Thais towards foreigners. For him, Brother Hilaire is just “another farang” who did something “cool” by writing Daroon Suksa.
The movie moves between characters living in two different times. The past depicts the life of the French priest Francois Touvenet Hilaire, who left France for Siam in 1901. The movie focuses on his humanism, love of Thai, determination and, above all, the love of god and compassion that underlined his approach to education.
The film gets a modern touch with scenes of Pongsatorn and his thesis adviser, superbly played by amateur actor Chartchai Norasethaporn, an alumnus of Assumption College.
“Your view of Brother Hilaire is only skin-deep,” says the adviser. “If you can’t be more analytical and present the life of Brother Hilaire with his deep influence on the education system and his role in society, then you should abandon this thesis.”
Like many of the confident, self-absorbed young generation, Pongsatorn reacts by feeling shattered and getting drunk, locking himself in his room and having hallucinations of the late priest in an alcohol-driven quasi-dream.