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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
The Scent of Green Papaya [DVD] 1993)
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on 2 October 2017
Very good
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on 9 April 2006
It seems impossible how a plot so simple, how the day to day experience of a young Vietnamese servant as she learns her work, observing the very ordinary uneventful life of the family she serves, can be so exquisitely beautiful.
But every second is a fresh wonder to savour and sense, but the wonders are everyday things and happenings.
I only found an explanation by reading another review, this is a film based on a Buddhist view of life, so we share with the servant Mui her living absolutely for the present moment, observing everything afresh, being enriched by her silent presence as the family are in the film. This is made possible by the combination of superb photography and minimal dialogue riveting our attention on Mui.
The Buddhist culture of the film explains why when Mui is grown up and working for a young musician he recognises Mui in a bust of Buddha.
Mui is played by two actresses, Man San Lu as a child of 10 and Tran Nu Yen-Khe age twenty, and fortunately both actresses are able to portray the extraordinary personality of Mui.
This master work is probably unique in the power of its simplicity.
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on 19 December 2004
the film slowly builds it's layers describing a 10/12 year period in a Vietnamese family who are enjoying mixed fortunes.
all seen through the experience of a young servant from the country.
the colours, the soundtrack and the minimalist dialogue make this a jewel of a film and really allows the watcher to relax and enjoy the unfolding story
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on 31 January 2009
The photography is exquisite throughout the film. The film itself moves at a slow pace, but gives one an idea of life in Vietnam before the Revolution. The acting is good, and having been to Vietnam myself, I loved it. It is an "art film".The Scent Of Green Papaya [1993]
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on 1 July 2015
Not anamorphic, terrible picture quality.
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on 3 July 2007
This film captures beautiful images as seen by the naked eye when the camera hones in on such natural wonders as a frog on a large green leaf, an ant carrrying a crumb or a papaya tree with green ripening fruit located outside one's window. Or when the camera scans the the interior of the home and captures oriental lattice work on a porch railing or a screen wall divider or porcelain vases on a credence. These images are impressed both on the viewer and on the mind of Mui, a nine year old Vietnamese girl from a small village who gets a job as servant in the household of shopkeepers. The artistic use of cinematography leaves the viewer with a sense of wonder and anticipation, expecting to be spellbound by even more mysterious oriental imagery - the viewer will not be disappointed! This feeling and tone is mesmerizing as so much beauty and such a wonderful love story unfolds ... with a minimum of dialogue.

Mui learns the household routine from an older servant ... She awakens early to make breakfast, cleans the floors on her hands and knees, and learns to prepare delicious and colorful meals using a wok....The family has three sons, one is older, almost an adult, two are younger - the middle son is about 11 or 12 years old, the youngest is about 5 or 6 years and very mischevious. The family business is selling textiles. Mui is treated kindly and later learns the family had a daughter who would be exactly Mui's age. She died of a mysterious disease. There is slight tension within the family regarding the business. The wife runs the business impeccably. She keeps accounts accurately and locks up the cash in a safe. Her husband often spends his time daydreaming and playing an oriental stringed instrument, sometimes accompaned on a flute by the eldest son. In the past, the husband had abruptly left the household, taking all the cash and likely gambling away their savings. After one such episode, his baby daughter became ill and died exactly the day before he returned. This event haunts him ...

One day, the servants were awaiting his return for dinner but he does not show up. The wife was notified. She checked his room and then went to the safe only to discover all the household cash and savings were gone. He did not break his gambling habit. His wife gave some gold earrings to pawn to have enough money to buy rice for the meals. She sold some of her antique vases to make ends meet. Eventually, he returned but was ill. Despite the best Oriental medicine, including acupuncture and moxibustion, his health deteriorated and he died. Ten years passed and the textile business was waning. Mui was still employed by the same family who were contemplating sending her to work for a wealthier family since they could not afford to keep her any longer.

Mui accepted the news sadly and received a pearl necklace and gold bracelet as parting gifts from her former mistress. The mistress tearfully bid her good-bye, telling Mui how much she appreciated having her live in their home, feeling Mui was like her own daughter. Mui became the only servant to a bachelor musician/composer who was engaged to be married. His fiance becomes jealous of the young pretty servant. Although at that point there was no relationship other than master and servant ... the fiance's instincts are not wrong ... Mui and her master play a game of hide-and-seek, cat-and-mouse until their energies and bodies physically unite. The film delicately portrays the growing love between the musician and his servant. All of it is shown naturally yet ... without explicit scenes. By far, this is among the best oriental love stories shown on film. Erika Borsos (pepper flower)
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on 14 March 2007
Saigon, Vietnam 1951.Ten year old Mui(Lu Man San) arrives from the country to take up her position as servant girl to a sporadically wealthy family.For ten years she performs her duties until she is sent away to work for a family friend with whom she shares feelings of affection.

Beautifully capturing Mui's everyday existance from the carrying out of chores to dealing with the mischevious youngest son,these aspects dovetail seamlessly with Mui's growing understanding of the family and the secrets that bind them.The scene where the mother watches Mui wash her hands is very touching.

Delicately sensuous with many beautiful and haunting images, this is cinema at it's most observational and truthful.Slight but hypnotic.
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on 3 October 2015
If it's true that the meek inherit the earth, this beautiful and lyrical film explores a way in which it might happen. Miu is quiet, soft-spoken, obedient. She is gentle, pure and innocent. She's a 10-year-old servant girl who has come from her local village to work in the household of Master and Mistress Trung. Miu accepts her duties thankfully and respects her superiors. In the new household she will wash, clean and learn to cook from an adult female servant.

The year is 1951, the place Saigon. The house is open, airy, breezy, its windows left wide open in the tropical heat. Fans whirr. The Master plays his dan tam (shamisen) and sleeps at mid-day. The Mistress sews and sells cloth, the only income the family now has. The lassitude of the master is unexplained. He could be ill, spoiled or lazy. But later we learn he is selfish and reckless. He takes money from the family earnings and spends it on outside pursuits, which is to say other women. The Mistress, his wife, endures these lapses silently, uncomplainingly, her misery and suffering made worse by her husband's mother who accuses her of not having loved her son enough. The cruel words she hears from the old woman are these:

“I knew from the start my son would be unhappy with you. You have a husband and you don't know how to make him happy. It's your fault. If you'd known how to love him, he wouldn't have left for other women.”

The Master is indolent, feckless and self-centered, but the Mistress is blamed as the cause of it. Or so the accusation goes. In this world, or microcosm of it, the women work, the men play.

Complicating matters in the family is grief and guilt. A young daughter, aged 3, died seven years ago. The Master was away at that time too but somehow the Mistress is held accountable for the death. All day the mother-in-law prays for the souls of the departed (that of her husband and granddaughter).

The Mistress could be bitter but she is not. She is kind and thoughtful to her children, husband, the servants, and even to her mother-in-law, quietly maintaining her dignity. Miu sees and feels this. She feels protected and grateful. Though she has a home back in her local village, the Mistress has become a mother figure to her.

The two boys are shiftless and spoiled. The elder one Lam, aged 12 or 13, is cruel to insects. He drips hot candle wax on them, particularly on ants, just to watch them struggle, suffer and die. He does so without emotion, with blank, unfeeling eyes. The younger boy is Tin, perhaps 6. He's mischievous and a budding bully. He picks on Miu because he can, knowing she dare not complain. He farts when he's around her and pees in front of her. In one case he put lizards in the vases she was asked to dust and clean. She dropped one. It fell to the floor and shattered. The lizard that jumped out frightened her. But the Mistress did not raise her voice in anger. She said it didn't matter, though it did (the vase was a valuable antique).

A young musician named Mr. Khuyen, perhaps aged 22, is sometimes a guest at the house. He is a friend of the Master's and they sometimes play music together. He is quiet, serious, intelligent and sincere. He too is dignified. Mui likes him because he looks at her cheerfully and smiles. She may be a servant, but he sees the girl, the person, not the position. She feels this. Her heart swells when he visits.

One evening Mr. Khuyen is present at the dinner table. Miu asks to make the meal herself that night. She does her best, pouring all her learning into the dishes. She also puts on her best serving dress and wears a necklace. She proudly brings the food on a tray to the table, beaming as she does. Mr. Khuyen notices, bows his head slightly, says not a word but looks at her and smiles. We see her leave the table, her face radiant with joy. She has served and pleased him, and in her world this is everything.

The papaya grow on trees in the garden. That same garden is a home for songbirds, toads, lizards and salamanders. Also for insects: crickets, moths and ants. Miu delights in the movements of these creatures. She watches them calmly, quietly, intently. Her eyes are bright and smiling. White sap drips from a papaya that has just been cut. The sap falls onto the green leaf of a tropical plant. Miu watches it meticulousy. Even this — this white sap — makes her smile.

We often think in dualities, assigning subjects and objects to the world. But the look on Miu's face says her mind works differently. The world she sees with her eyes matches that of her inner world. There is no separation.

The Master is stricken with an illness. It is serious. The doctor comes. Acupuncture and moxibustion are administered. Musicians play to cheer him. But nothing works. He weakens and dies. His mother is unforgiving of the Mistress, holding her accountable for the lost life. The Mistress grieves, suffers, ages rapidly.

Time passes. Ten years, in fact. Miu is now 20, a grown young woman. The Mistress is gray and walks with the aid of a cane. The grandmother isn't around anymore and presumably has died. The elder son Lam has now married and he and his wife live in the house. They talk one night among themselves and decide they can no longer afford to keep Miu on as servant. They remember Mr. Khuyen and how pleased he seemed to be with her. They enquire. Mr. Khuyen consents, agrees.

The time for Miu's departure comes. The Mistress cries and Miu does too. The Mistress says to her:

“Without knowing it you've always been a great comfort. Thanks to you I feel I've had a daughter.”

Miu shares the emotion, parting from the Mistress as though she were her mother. This tender scene is hard to witness.

The household of Mr. Khuyen is very different from what Miu has known. He lives alone as a bachelor. He's a serious musician, a composer. He plays the piano for hours at a time. The music is gentle, melodic. Miu does her work there wordlessly, silently. She cooks and cleans for him. But someone else is present there as well: Mr. Khuyen's fianceé. She is frivolous, possessive, demanding. She dresses elegantly and is evidently rich (or her wealth comes from that of her parents). On the surface all seems well. But then, ever so gradually, cracks begin to appear. Mr. Khuyen says nothing to Miu, or if he does we never hear his comments and commands. He's highly absorbed in his music, though this doesn't mean he's oblivious. In fact we learn indirectly that he has been observing Miu, and she learns this too. In a drawer she discovers drawings he has made of her face. He has a fianceé, but it is not the face of the fianceé he thinks of and draws. It is Miu's.

She responds silently, although we see what she thinks. She puts on her best dress and golden necklace (both departing gifts to her from Mistress Trung). She puts ruby-red lipstick on her lips (the very lipstick left behind one night by the fianceé). Mr. Khuyen comes home early one evening and sees her in front of the mirror — sees the dress and necklace and lipstick. Miu is mortified, sick with embarrassment. She runs to her end of the house, to the servant's quarters. He follows her. He wants to find her. He does. But he's embarrassed too when he does. Nothing is said, but all is remembered. Thereafter he will come to her in the night. He will hesitate, deliberate, but in the end he will open the door to her room. We see her there in her nightgown beyond the mosquito net. But that is all we see, as we are not invited in. He is. Or he has invited himself.

The fianceé is unaccepting. She becomes emotional, violent, vindictive. She strikes Miu. She throws and breaks things. But it doesn't matter. Mr. Khuyen's feelings have changed. He loves someone else. Perhaps he always loved her — loved her even when she was just a little girl. She needed time to grow up and now she has. She stays in his house, but no longer as his servant. He teaches her to read and write. They sit together with books, reading appreciatively to one another. And when he plays the piano she just listens silently, her silence a kind of loving, enveloping protection for him.

If her goodness is meekness, it might also be called her strength. Mr. Khuyen was drawn to it, loved it, and loved her for it.
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on 3 August 2010
Calling it silent may in many ways be wrong - but there certainly isn't a lot of dialogue in this movie, but a demanding score and the natural sounds of the surroundings plays a huge role.
Though little dialogue one easily follows the story of the servant girl. Many scenes are almost hypnotizing in their filming and one feels with the girl.
The film can be seen as an allegory of many things: Buddhist life, Vietnam to name the most obvious. And this makes it a film that comes back to mind again and again a long time after one has seen the movie.
This is a movie to be seen - especially if you are interrested in the Asian way of telling a story mostly told without dialogue - a method very few Western directors master.
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on 30 July 2012
For those of us who have fallen in love with Vietnam as travellers and tourists this is a wonderful evocation of life well before the war the Vietnamese call the American war. Details of everyday life: shopping for food, cooking, cleaning, family meals, are quietly and undramatically portrayed by the camera as onlooker.
Equally, the errant husband and the naughty little boy are shown without criticism; we simply watch the outcomes. The story of the central character is charming and developed with a light touch. Wonderful visually, the restraint with which this story is told will be familiar to visitors who encounter Vietnam even today.
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