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A little girl, Mui, went to a house as a new servant. The mother still mourns the death of her daughter, who would have been Mui's age. In her mind she treated Mui as her daughter. 10 years later Mui (now a young woman) was sent to another family, a young pianist and his wife. The musician falls in love with the peasant, he taught her literacy and they eventually married. A movie about a girl's life. Written by
Zheng Wang <email@example.com>
If your taste runs to action blockbusters, this film is not for you. The Scent of Green Papaya is the sort of film that repays patient observation, and lends itself to repeated viewings. I'm not an "intellectual"--I will admit I had to take a couple of runs at this film before I understood what I was seeing. The first time, I turned it off 20 min. into it, saying, "Nothing's happening here!" That's true, if you're used to Western films that are driven by action and dialog. Like many Asian films, TSOGP is instead driven by inter-action between characters and observation. The camera functions as an "eye" to show us life from the character's point of view. After seeing the entire film, I became aware that it had become a part of my mental furnishings; I realised I was spending quite a lot of time thinking about it in the following days. I'm told by those who live with me that the highest compliment I can give a film are the words, "I need to see it again." And I do--I need to buy a copy and see it several more times.
Ten year old Miu is sent from her home village to Saigon to work as a servant in a cloth merchant's household. She is fascinated by their beautiful home and its furnishings, the papaya tree in the courtyard, and how very different their lifestyle is to what she has known. The youngest son of the family sees her arrival as a golden opportunity--at last someone is lower on the family totem-pole than himself, and he tries to bully Miu in various ways. However, his attempts fall flat as he never gets much of a reaction; in her innocence, Miu accepts events as they come, never trying to assign blame or "tell" on him. If a jar gets broken, she accepts it is her fault; if a pail of dirty water gets upended or "someone" pees all over a clean floor, she cleans it up without a word. Her employer's wife soon sees her as a surrogate daughter, someone to fill the void of her own daughter's death and her own loveless marriage to a spendthrift husband who abandons the family for weeks at a time and comes home empty handed.
Ten years later, Miu is sent to work for a family friend, a young man she has long admired. His relationship with a spoiled girl of his own class flickers out as he becomes more aware of Miu's quiet presence in his life. All of the "action" of the film is crammed into the last 30 min, as we see the results of his growing awareness and its transforming effect.
The film is stunning to look at, as usual in much of Asian cinema. If I had one complaint, it was the soundtrack; not the traditional Vietnamese music played by father and son at the beginning of the story, but the tortuous "contemporary" Western music in the second half, including a dreadful rendition of Debussy's Claire de Lune--as if an alley cat were trying to play the violin on its own cat-guts. The caterwauling added nothing to the film, and only served as an irritating distraction. This is what caused me to lower my rating of this otherwise fine film.
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