The Scent of Green Papaya tells the story of an ophan girl named Mui in the 1940s. At a yong age she goes to work as a domestic servant in a troubled house that belongs to a merchant family. From her perspective we witness the day to day hustle of the daily chores and activities and we get a glimpse of the inner workings of the family. It’s a beautiful movie with a bare minimum of dialogue. Each shot is beautifully framed, an absolute poem for the eyes.
This movie, quite simply, put Vietnam on the cinematic map. After the initial set up of the film you’ll witness some horrifying tragic events. For example, Mui’s Mistress has lost a daughter in the past who would now be Mui’s age. When her husband runs away from his family and takes the money she has saved from her small business in Saigon selling fabric, more of the past is revealed. The film’s politics take on a new dimension here. Just as it begins to feel too simple for its own good, however, the film leaps ahead ten years.
There is an emphasis on the rituals of life. The simple is made beautiful. Every natural sound seems amplified. Consider this, when Mui is in the camera’s sights in an enclosed space we always find plants or animals. Conversely, when Mui is not present, the scene is devoid of the same. In short, Mui’s world is nature. It’s a wonderful movie, but not necessarily family oriented. Perhaps for those interested in forgein films with a bit of comedy and romance attached. Still, it is definitely a must see!
There is something particularly beautiful in Mui’s graceful acceptance of her lot. Even as an adult, she finds a quiet joy in communion with nature, a joy we are allowed to share with her in the very act of experiencing the film. The director has said in interviews, he sees this period in the movie as a time when Vietnam’s social categories were intact, before women’s rights destroyed the domestic contract. This is why when you watch the film, women know their place and are settled, if not entirely happy in it. This film came out 15 years ago and still holds up today as a great film you just have to see.