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I am a judge for the Indianapolis-based Heartland Film Festival. This
feature film is a Crystal Heart Award Winner and is eligible to be the
Grand Prize Winner in October of 2007. The Heartland Film Festival is a
non-profit organization that honors Truly Moving Pictures. A Truly
Moving Picture "
explores the human journey by artistically expressing
hope and respect for the positive values of life."
This story takes place over the course of a week in today's Saigon. Saigon is a teaming, energetic, cold, on-the-make city of 8 million. It can be a very lonely place for people without family and friends.
Three of these people include a ten year-old girl who has no parents. She has run away from her child factory labor duties and was living with an unloving, uncle tyrant. Now she lives and sleeps in the streets of Saigon selling single rose flowers for a living. The second person is a young, poor, hardworking animal keeper for the zoo. He has no family and has lived at the zoo his whole life. The third person is a 26 year-old stewardess who seems to have everything; that is, a good job and beauty. But she is unhappy because she lacks direction and meaningful relations.
They come together as a threesome via the determination and pluck of the ten year-old. Will they find meaning to their lives leaning on each other? or not? Life is just too difficult for each of them, but for different reasons. And, they are very different from each other.
But, there is a common trait among the three. They are all decent people. They are honest and direct and they treat each other with uncommon respect and dignity.
And by the way, the ten year-old girl steals the show.
FYI There is a Truly Moving Pictures web site where there is a listing of past Truly Moving Picture Award winners that are now either at the theater or available on video.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Owl and the Sparrow", the first feature from Stephane Gauger, who also wrote the screenplay and shot it, is an effective drama about a young orphan girl, Thuy (Pham Thi Han), who escapes from her uncle's factory and lives on the streets of Saigon. There, she befriends a kind zookeeper and a flight attendant. Various dramas flare as young Thuy becomes involved in matchmaking, fleeing from the police, and helping an elephant survive. The film's strengths are in its writing and performances. The young lead actress is extremely good, delivering a mature, layered, inspired performance. What lets the film down, especially during its first half hour, is the camera-work. It is unnecessarily jerky and often out of sync with the momentum of the emotions. When we're being drawn into the film's heart, we're also having to deal with motion sickness. Jerkiness does not equal edginess. The material here is strong, so strong, in fact, that it does not need shots of photographic adrenalin. Thankfully, the camera calms down and the rest of the movie is highly watchable and allowed to proceed without interruption. Hopefully, Gauger will trust the material and the performances next time. Still, this is a fine achievement.
I went to see this film not expecting it to be anything much but I thought it was a respectable effort after I had seen it. I must admit I was surprised to be the only person in a cinema with about 200 seats-I think that speaks to the way people are avoiding going out these days in general more than it speaks to the quality of the film. The use of colour in the film was very good and the part played by a kid was very well done-it is a film that also shows various shots of kids all over the Vietnam area and I think some other places also-sort of like a 'homage' to kids-as they are often forgotten parts of the modern world in many ways in the sense that modern society is mostly about being adults-people forget there are kids growing up all over the place taking in the never ending adult self gratification show from a distance. The film is sensitive and intelligent-and not in English-it is in Vietnamese, but has easy to read English subtitles. Great shots of grinning kids from all over East Asia. Fun and a treat if you like world cinema.
As the adoptive father of a Vietnamese orphan, I was absolutely blown away by this film, about a little girl, orphaned, who is living with/working for, her verbally abusive uncle and runs away to Saigon, where she lives on the street, selling post cards and roses, until she befriends a young adult woman and becomes the matchmaker between the woman and a young man. It's charming, but also heartbreaking because of the honest portrayal of children living on their own on the streets of Saigon, left to survive for themselves. There, but for the grace of God, could go my own lovely daughter. How rare it is to have four characters who are each so honest and genuine.
As I apprehensively waited these last few years to watch this film, I
realize how unfair I've become based on fear of an all too familiar let
down by another filmmaker, who, for the most part by and - as large as
our tiny community is - create such derivative cinematic tripe of
obvious contrivance that's usually riddled with unapologetic bias.
After watching this film, I was not only blown away by the exquisite
lighting and bold composition, but also was mesmerized by the beautiful
story that seemed to be exploring the oftentimes insidious nature of
power and the hero's who refuse to be victimized by it.
The Owl And The Sparrows wonderful characters triumph in the end and the subtle journalism of contemporary Vietnam demands the critical viewer to think beyond the happy ending, to listen for the barely audible sounds of change and to embrace what is inherently true.
Stephane Gauger should be added to the small list of great directors.
I don't know anything about movie composition, shots, lighting etc so my rating about the movie storyline and how it affected me, not about the technical production by the director. Clearly, the story talks about young children trying to make it on the street in a large city, a heart-rending proposition in most cases. Frankly, I cared about the little girl from the opening sequences on and I got more and more worried about her blundering about on her own... Through her lucky fate and her own pluckiness and "goodness of heart", she makes it on the streets for about a week, manages to worm herself into the heart of two unrelated strangers and actually brings them together! That little girl had amazing insight into the hearts and minds of adults. Miracles do happen, heart-melting events do happen, moving stories do happen. The story is totally vietnamese, features vietnamese scenes from the country and the street, children trying to fit into the adult world, and adults trying to make sense of their own lives. Great story!
While one may argue that the ending is a little bit Hollywood, the
movie itself is not. Featuring a stunning performance by ten-year-old
Han Thi Pham, the movie stays with the viewer long after the credits
I won't tell you the plot; there isn't much of one. The art of this movie is not so much about story as it is about human beings, their relationships with one another and how a little faith and a whole lot of belief can bring us all together.
There's not a wasted note here. The music, improbably an electric guitar, never overwhelms and is used with taste so rare with modern directors. You are invited to flow along with the story and live as if you are an onlooker on the streets of Saigon.
But all this wouldn't work without the brilliant understatement of its centerpiece, Han Thi Pham. Working without much expression, the actress uses her voice to convey emotion. The perfection and purity of her motives may seem suspect to many Westerners but in the setting of this story the result in at once sad and uplifting.
The script is crisp, the camera work utilitarian and the direction never more than what is needed. This is movie making the way it should be. It is a film perfect for repeat viewings, such is the depth of emotion and simple story-telling.
The Owl and Sparrow is a great effort of a Viet Kieu.
It's a moving story of a 10 year old orphan who ran away from her cold-hearted uncle to the hustle and bustle of Saigon and ended up making friends with a flight attendant and a zoo keeper. One was stuck in relationship with the captain who was married. One locked himself up in the world of animals trying to get over his ex girlfriend. In the middle of an 8 million populated city, they found each other.
The beginning of the movie is a little bit too unnecessarily shaky and hard to watch but it gets better as the story goes on. The dialogues are fairly good for a script written by a half Vietnamese American though there are lines that are a bit unnatural.
The film looks like a documentary which makes it real and lively. Honestly if I hadn't read about the movie and downloaded it, I would have thought it was a pure Vietnamese film made by a Vietnamese filmmaker.
I would not say much about the leading actors and actresses as for a film like this, their acting is probably enough to make the story believable.
Owl and Sparrow is not some kind of a must see but would be interesting to those who are an expat in Vietnam, used to live in Vietnam or has any relation to this lovely country.
Its hard to imagine a country that has been through more heartache and
tragedy than Vietnam over the last 100 years. Occupied by the French,
then the Americans, then the Russians....the mere fact of their
survival points to a strong, national character and the movies coming
out of this country over the last 15 years or so all have a strong
moral compass and a soul rarely seen in Western films these days.
Continuing in the fine tradition of films like The Scent Of Green Papaya, Cyclo, Three Seasons, etc., Owl and the Sparrow is an absolute jewel. Its hard not to be touched by the gritty, 3rd World reality forced upon children who have no time to be kids. The suffering of the Vietnamese people over the last 100 years has imbued them with a dogged determination to overcome at all odds and the little 10 year old girl, Thuy, who is the main focus of the movie, shows that grit and determination while still retaining the adorable charm of a child. And I don't like kids!!!!!
Enough people have commented on the plot line and the technical aspects before. Suffice to say this is a feel-good movie of the first order. If you are not emotionally all in by the end of this movie, better check your pulse.
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