Cambodia International Film Festival

Premiere of “Princess Buppha Devi, The First Royal Apsara” by Christophe Gargiulo

On April 1st, the documentary “Princess Buppha Devi: The First Royal Apsara” will premiere for the first time in Cambodia at the French Institute cinema. The film chronicles the life and devotion of Princess Norodom Buppha Devi to the Royal Ballet.

Princess Buppha Devi in
Princess Buppha Devi in “Buppha Devi, The First Royal Apsara” by Christophe Gargiulo

The 52-minute film by director Christophe Gargiulo is set in an interview-style documentary. Gargiulo met the princess while producing documentaries for Apsara TV in 2010. Charmed by her personality, he discovered later of her royal lineage as the daughter of late King Sihanouk.

Introduced to the princess through a friend who is also part of the royal family, Norodom Buddhapong, Gargiulo was directed to Prince Tesso Sisowath, the now producer of the film. Prince Tesso Sisowath was one of the Princess’ closest and most faithful collaborators for many years. He assisted the Princess with the Royal Ballet’s tours and administration, among other things. Prince Tesso Sisowath is currently director of the Princess Buppha Devi Dance School.

Scene from
Scene from “Princess Buppha Devi, The First Royal Apsara” by Christophe Gargiulo

Gargiulo was warned that the Princess was not a fan of media and photos, but he finally convinced her to be in the film. Before then, he had studied old footage of her iconic solo dance in 1962 at the royal palace filmed by American TV. During filming at the palace, he was able to see the same dance solo that took place over 50 years ago.

Her Royal Highness Princess Buppha Devi narrates a journey through time in the film, accompanied with illustrations from the extensive archival footage. Through her own words, she paints a picture of her childhood, her memories of her grandmother, her experiences debuting as a prima ballerina, her time filming with Marcel Camus, and the Khmer Rouge drama.

The Cambodian Princess Norodom Buppha Devi was a dancer, director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, senator, and was once the Minister of Culture and Fine Arts. The elder sister of Prince Norodom Ranariddh and the half-sister of the current King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, she was the daughter of Norodom Sihanouk and Neak Moneang Phat Kanhol. The princess became the premier dancer of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia at the age of 15 and was titled prima ballerina at the age of 18. Princess Buppha Devi served as director of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia and was Minister of Culture and Fine Arts from 1998 to 2004. After her retirement from her government post, the Princess continued to advocate for the survival of the Royal Ballet, after the Khmer Rouge regime. She died at the age of 76 in a hospital in Thailand on November 18, 2019.

The film showcases the struggle to save the Royal Ballet and her vision of a modern Ballet and its future.

The premiere of “Buppha Devi, The First Royal Apsara” by Christophe Gargiulo (Cambodia, 52min, VOKHSTA,2023) will be followed by a talk with the film director and Prince Tesso Sisowath. The film is a good complimentary piece to the film, The Perfect Motion, a film also about the Khmer Ballet. Screening will take place on April 1, at the French Institute Cinema at 2:30 pm.

The Khmer Ballet exhibition, which was previously displayed at Chaktomuk Theatre during the CIFF SPROUTS Opening Gala, is currently displayed at the  Bophana Center on Street 200.