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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"The cherry trees, gripped in shadows, spread out and curl up, sway and twist to the rhythm of the water. But the interesting thing is that, however much they change, they keep the shape of the cherry tree."
DVD ReviewYoung Mui (Lu Man San) stares transfixed in awe at the simple movements of an insect across the leaves of a plant. This ten-year-old girl works as a servant at a merchant household in Saigon, and she spends her days observing and marveling at the simple elements of life. Without uttering more than a few lines, this cute, bright-eyed child finds amazement in all of the basic items of nature that most people take for granted. Her enthusiasm exists within the midst of arduous housework, but it seems less strenuous while she enjoys the charming scents and luscious tunes of the world.
The Scent of Green Papaya closely follows the life of Mui at the ages of 10 and 20, beginning in 1951. Her father has died, so she moves to a residence in Saigon to work for them as a servant. Her mentor in the proper methods of cleaning and food preparation is Thi (Nguyen Anh Hoa), who presents the specific rules for each task. However, Mui never appears adversely effected by the toils of scrubbing a large floor and preparing sumptuous meals. She also must deal with the troublemaking of Tin (Neth Gerard)—one of the master's sons who likes to wreak havoc. The young child finds joy in knocking over vases and causing a general mess wherever he goes. Nevertheless, Mui shows little irritation and continues to find contentment in the simple pleasures of life.
Upon Mui's arrival, the family is doing very well, with the master and his wife presiding over their affairs. However, her observations soon reveal that everything is not in such an attractive state. The master spends much of his time playing music and drinking heavily, and the mother controls the day-to-day affairs. When events take a tragic turn, however, everyone must change their thinking to cope with new stresses on their way of living.
The final segment of the story takes place ten years later, when Mui (now played by Tran Nu Yen-Khe) has grown into a beautiful young woman. Spurred by financial difficulties, the family sends her to work for Khuyen (Vuang Hoa Hoi)—a gentle young pianist with a lively fiancée. During her time here, Mui continues to fade into the background and observe the subtleties of the world. While she begins to discover herself as a young woman, Khuyen continues to play his music oblivious to the charming girl living at his house. Her bright-eyed persona remains hidden beneath the daily tasks she performs as his servant.
Director Tran Anh Hung (The Vertical Ray of the Sun) crafts this compelling picture with an eye for simplicity and amazing beauty. Lengthy scenes exist during a single shot, with the camera scanning across the house and observing in a similar manner to Mui's views. There's also a surprising lack of dialogue that actually enhances the effect of the images and sounds presented. The lush guitar and piano music remarkably meshes with the ambient tunes of nature to create an enchanting environment. Although the story exists and remains interesting, it steps behind the atmosphere and becomes less essential as the film progresses.
Shot entirely on manufactured sound stages in France, The Scent of Green Papaya still captures breathtaking natural beauty without leaving a few homes. This is especially attributable to Hung's direction and the majestic cinematography of Benoit Delhomme. There's one sequence of about 30 minutes that contains almost no dialogue of any kind. In today's world of incessant chatter and action, this film may not appeal to all viewers. Give it a chance, however, and its simple charms may surprise you and remain in your mind for a long time.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The Scent of Green Papaya appears in its original 1.33:1 format, an odd rarity for a recent theatrical film. Although it lacks the pristine clarity of the better widescreen transfers, this presentation offers impressive colors that shine amidst the attractive landscape. There is a minor film of grain over the picture that limits its effectiveness, but there are virtually zero defects or specks on this print. Much of the power in Tran Anh Hung's films come from the beautiful visuals, and this transfer succeeds in presenting them in suitable fashion.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: This is the type of film that deserves a top-notch audio transfer, and this disc nearly reaches that level. The 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track presents all of the naturalistic sounds with efficient clarity, and its only drawback is the technical limitations of its format. During this presentation, birds chirp, water flows, and insects buzz from both sides of the sound field, and the effect is enthralling. This transfer emits sharp and charming sounds, but it is slightly disappointing to miss the chance to hear a 5.1-channel digital version.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Review: This disc offers a widescreen trailer for The Vertical Ray of the Sun, a newer entry from Tran Anh Hung, and full-frame trailers for Farinelli and the featured film.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThe films of Tran Anh Hung generate a fresh, dreamlike atmosphere with marvelous images and sounds of a foreign world. Far from the noisy, raucous atmosphere of modern cities, the families reside in tranquil havens where every movement of nature remains prevalent. The Scent of Green Papaya relates the engaging story of a young girl with a deliberate, easygoing manner. No actions occur quickly or shockingly, and the world moves at a snail's pace. They may not raise the energy level, but these tales provide a nice alternative to hectic life and create a quiet, serene tone that is hard to deny.
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