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The Scent of Green Papaya|
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, May 14, 2011 Share
Finally a movie set in Vietnam that contains none of the usual conventions. No mention of the Vietnam War. No rape scene. No mention of Communism. So what does The Scent of Green Papaya have?
Simple, an idealized Vietnam before the turmoil. Set in the 50's before the war began, the story begins with a 10-year old servant girl named Mui, (Man San Lu,) as she begins work for a rich family. Mui is quickly established as the central character. This is an interesting plot device to focus on servants at the beginning of the film. Years before the great Kurosawa directed The Hidden Fortress, which begins with two peasants. Mui learns everything from an older servant about how to care for a family and meet needs. It is refreshing to see that Mui is working for a good family and with a kind mother. So many other movies would have the servants being beaten, raped by the master, or some type of traumatic event. Not so in The Scent of Green Papaya because it allows Mui to become real in a realistic portrayal of a family. The viewer is able to watch the plot unfold through Mui's eyes. Whatever happens to Mui the audience is allowed to experience.
For most of the film nothing bad really happens until the Master takes the household money and leaves. He disappears for several days. This creates a tremendous burden on his family. The children cry and ask where is daddy? The wife is scolded by the Master's mother for not being a good wife because she can't keep her husband happy. The servants have to make due with a dwindling rice supply. He decision affects everyone from low to high.
Eventually the family falls on hard times when business is slow. Mui, now at age 20, ( Tran Nu Yen-Khe,) is forced to leave and become the servant of a family friend Khuyen. As Mui is about to leave, the Master's mother takes pity on her and gives her the clothes that were to be given to a long since dead daughter. Now that Mui is of age, she is given a red Chinese dress and necklaces that have been passed on throughout the family for generations. Since the family only has sons, these heirlooms would go to waste. Mui bows deeply and accepts the gifts. Then she leaves for the Khuyen house.
Mui falls in love with Khuyen as she watches him play piano. She takes extra care preparing his meals and keeps his house spotless. Khuyen is a lonely bachelor who has just earned a degree in music and is composing music for his income. He has a fiancee that he is just not into. He would rather play piano than entertain her. Mui wears the red Chinese dress and catches Khuyen eye. The fiancee slaps Mui, trashes the house, and leaves an engagement ring on the piano, never to return. Mui becomes more than a servant to the rich Khuyen, who takes time to teach her to read Vietnamese by reading a poem about green papaya. Eventually Khuyen and Mui become a couple.
The cinematography is extraordinary as the poem is read with rich visuals that help bring about the right mood. Sometimes shots are slightly out of focus, other times objects are brought into focus, and this is all done artfully to a beautiful poem. It is interesting to see how well a poem being read can achieve a cinematic greatness that would cause a lesser director to fail. Even a jaded audience will feel something as this quiet love story unfolds and develops. Plot is not important because the characters of Mui and the various people she interacts with provide the narrative drive that doesn't seem slow and is always engaging to the intelligent viewer.
The Scent of Green Papaya is the best example of Vietnamese cinema available. Winner of the 1993 Camera d'Or prize at Cannes and the Cesar Award for Best Debut. Directed by Tran Anh Hung and starring his wife, Tran Nu Yen-Khe as Mui age 20. Excellent musical score by Ton-That Tiet. Something outside the usual conventions about Vietnam that are becoming old hat due to too many movies focusing on the Vietnam War. The Scent of Green Papaya is a visual treat for the senses and the soul.
Highly Recommended 5 out of 5 Stars.
"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.