French documentarian Thomas Balmès checks in with the Himalayan monk he filmed back in 2013 to find him addicted to online romance
In 2013, French documentary-maker Thomas Balmès made a film called Happiness, about an eight-year-old monk called Peyangki in the remote Himalayan village of Laya in Bhutan – and how this boy was responding to the astounding novelties of TV and the internet. Now seven years later, Balmès has returned to Laya and to Peyangki, who has grown to young adulthood in this brave new digital world.
What Balmès has chanced upon now are not simply more instances of how the web has opened or closed that innocent mind: he gives us a sad and sombre love story from the globalised 21st century. Basically, Peyangki is now regularly neglecting his religious studies and is addicted to his smartphone and to the web, though arguably no more so than any other young person in the developed world. And in particular he is into the Chinese video service WeChat, through which he is regularly talking to a woman called Ugyen, apparently a bar hostess in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, who sings songs for him.