The Scent of Green Papaya
Time Out saysThe story of Mui, a peasant girl who comes to Saigon to serve in the house of a bourgeois family: grandmother, parents, three sons and a maid. It's 1951, the influence of the West is beginning to make itself felt, but already the old conventions are beginning to crack. Tran's first feature - shot, remarkably, in France - is sensuous, evocative and politically ambivalent. It focuses particularly on the servitude of women. We watch in close-up as Mui learns her duties: cleaning up after the youngsters, running errands, cooking rice and papaya for the family. At first these are mere chores, but later, as she grows into a woman, they take on a more fulfilling purpose. The movie's poetic-realist design meshes detailed, patient observation and delectable, poignant travelling shots; it grounds us in the quotidian duties of service and dissects contemporary Vietnamese social hierarchies, yet adds up to something much more subtle and enticing: a lyrical portrait of the human spirit in work and in love. Exquisitely controlled.