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.