The Scent of the Green Papaya

I mentioned that I wanted to travel more via foreign films this year. My first destination was Vietnam. The Scent of the Green Papaya is a Vietnamese-language film that was produced in France. Tran Anh Hung, who is Vietnamese and French, wrote and directed the film. The film stars Tran Nu Yen-Khe, Man San Lu, and Thi Loc Truong. It won the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1993, a Cesar Award for Best Debut, and was shortlisted for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This was Vietnam’s first official submission for this category at the Academy Awards.

In 1951, in Saigon, Mui, a young girl, becomes a servant for a wealthy family. She is sweet child. Unfortunately, the family she works for is in turmoil. It consists of a mother and father, three sons, and the husband’s mother. The father is distraught that their daughter has died and hardly leaves the house. However, when he does, he has a tendency of taking all of the money and disappearing for extended periods. The wife runs the family cloth business to help keep the family afloat. The grandmother was widowed at a young age and hardly leaves her room. Mui learns her place in this society—which is to serve and to stay quiet. She doesn’t seem bitter about her place in life and is always cheerful. Ten years later, she is employed by a wealthy composer who is a friend of the family she previously worked for. Early on, Mui finds herself attracted to the composer. However, her station doesn’t allow her to act on her feelings. And true to her personality, she continues smiling while completing her tasks. Will the composer discover her secret?

Everything in this film is beautiful. Most of the action takes place in the house or on the grounds of the house. And it’s mind-boggling how decadent this lifestyle was. The food that Mui prepares made my mouth water. The vases in the homes, the screens, and all of the objects are exquisite. This movie is a feast for the eyes. There’s not a lot of dialogue. Instead it feels like glimpsing into the inner workings of the homes, discovering secrets.

While watching the film I didn’t feel like much was happening. However, when I think back about the secrets that are divulged, this film really has a complicated plot that comes across so simplistic that it would be easy to miss what is actually going on. Even if you don’t want to learn about the family, I would recommend watching this film just for its sheer beauty. Every shot is like observing a piece of art.

I watched this film for Caroline’s World Cinema Series challenge. If you would like to join in on the fun, please visit her site.

History of World Cinema

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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25 Responses to The Scent of the Green Papaya

  1. Caroline says:

    I’ve got this one here as well and can’t wait to watch it. It sounds so beautiful.
    You’re right, it was such a decadentt life style. I remember watching Indochine with Catherine Deneuve years agor and thinking the same. I don’t think I’ve seen any Vietnamese movies, nor have I read Vietnamese books although I have a few here.
    Thanks so much for the lovely review.

    • TBM says:

      Indochine–that rings a bell but can’t remember much of it. I need to request that one. What Vietnamese books do you have? I would like to find some for my challenge. Can’t wait to hear what you think of this movie. I loved it–and the images will astound you.

  2. I adore this movie when it came out. It is indeed a feast for the eyes and only later does the brain kick in and reveal its depths.

  3. The way you describe this film reminds me of Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, which is one of my favorites. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks.

  4. Carl V. says:

    Another I will have to add to my list. I don’t watch foreign films as often as I should, especially given that my track record is that I like a greater percentage of the ones I do than regular films. Thanks for the great review.

    • TBM says:

      I’m the same way Carl. I find foreign films more fascinating, original, and beautiful. That might be due to the fact that I’m not as familiar with the societies and stories of the countries. It is a great way to learn about different places. I hope you watch this one. I have a feeling your review would be just as beautiful as the film

      • I think the same thing, I think that the exposure to different cultures and different ways of looking at things is a fascinating aspect of watching films made in other countries and by foreign (to me) film makers.

      • TBM says:

        Yes, I agree. It opens my eyes to new worlds. My problem is each time I see a film I want to get on a plane and find out for myself what the country is like. Someday. One day I hope I can wake up one morning, throw a dart at my map and then head to the airport and go. No planning, no saving–just go.

      • That would be fun. I’d like to just take that kind of adventure in country.

  5. following the link in your post, i found 2 new film blogs to subscribe to. i love that 🙂 i’ll be on the look-out for this movie. sounds intriguing

  6. I love this movie! It is so beautiful, you could just watch it without sound. I need to watch it again. The same director did The Vertical Ray of the Sun, which is also lovely.

    • TBM says:

      I need to request that movie. And yes, you can just watch this film and not listen to it. The story is not just about the characters. it’s about the visual.

  7. petit4chocolatier says:

    This sounds wonderful. I love complicated plots!

  8. samokan says:

    Now I am curious about this movie.. I hope I can find it here

  9. zelmare says:

    This sounds like a treat. I’ve never heard of it though, and I’m not sure we’ll be able to get it here in SA.

  10. dhitzunako says:

    Hi, TBM. Your review made me want to see the movie. Anyway, IMDB`s parental guide said that its theme is infidelity/love affair, is it true? Thank you for sharing this.

    • TBM says:

      Yes they are in the movie, but I wouldn’t classify it as only that. There’s so much going on in the film–it’s all subtle, but beautiful.

  11. Pingback: World Cinema Series 2013 – Wrap up and Winner Announcement | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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