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The Scent Of Green Papaya [Critique]

Synopsis: An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and winner of the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Films Festival, THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA is set in 1951 Saigon, where 10 year old Mui (Lu Man San) enters household service for an affluent but troubled Vietnamese family. Despite her servile role, Mui discovers beauty and epiphany in the lush physical details that envelope her.
Les Productions Lazennec.


Director: Tran Anh Hung

Running Time: 104 min

Year: 1993


It is an unmistakably romantic film for people who live secure with the passing of time.
Filled with director’s nostalgia for the days before the Vietnam war, it is a sweet ripe thing that the French Vietnamese director, Tran Anh Hung, in his first feature film cast his beautiful wife Tran Nu Yên-Khê. While Hung continues to work with his wife in majority of his other films, this being the first feature film, makes it that much sweeter. Winner of the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Films Festival as well as the French national film award, César Award for Best First Work, The Scent Of Green Papaya shows us the journey of a young woman’s life.
The asian culture and its various systems of organizations as well as cultural aesthetics have drawn my attention for all of my adult life. This meeting of a strong Vietnamese culture and strong French culture is visibly woven into the film’s decor, acting, directing and happy love filled ending.
For those who are comfortable with knowing, feeling and living life in the present moment this film evokes reflections about hierarchy, suffering, gender roles, cultural and societal nuances and passing of time.
Showing comparison between the natural world of plants, insects and animals and human world, it is an invitation of how power can be utilized in/by hierarchy.
I like the opening scene of this film along with the details outlining precisely the unfolding events of the film, foreshadowing what is to come. The sensual nature of the film and the detail shown in the film make it a provocatively beautiful and attractive film to watch. Well timed music through the film adds the melodies to the various tensions and feelings the film explores. Early on presenting the father playing Đàn nguyệt (Moon lute), later on the pianist who plays Chopin, as well as the background music and sound of insects make it a palpable experience for the senses. Film’s artistic detail in the art pieces, colours of the interiors and exteriors, arrangements of plants and natural environment, attention to subtlety, finely tuned moments of time make this film a fine work of art.
Perhaps this film invites a natural unfolding of emotional and sensual nature of our delicate hearts.
At minute 7:47 through Mui’s window we are shown a Papaya tree with unripe green papayas.
This fruit periodically is shown cut, washed, cleansed, bathed, sliced, prepared in various ways and its seeds are looked at in wonder. The fruit represents Mui’s young age and her journey over 10 years, her marriage to a Vietnamese pianist, and both pleasant and unpleasant moments of life.
The film unfolds and shows us the ripening in the living world, seeding and sawing our seeds of actions, and the cyclical nature of life through various sensual tensions. These tensions weave into to a melody of Mui’s life, exposing failed tensions (the pilfering and philandering father of the family, and the failed engagement of the pianist man) as well as correct and complete tensions between people.
Through the pleasing physiques of the people, the attention to the grooming and cooking, serving and cleaning, modest and kosher clothing and daily activities timed properly, the rituals of life are showing the passing and coming together of emotions between people, simple exchanges of words, and lives forming and coming apart.
The film is filled with longings and planning for the future and remorse and reflection about the past. The death of the daughter in the family, another relative’s passing is strong thread of this film reflected in the cutting of the fruit of the tree and of killing of insects, eating of meat and the type of conflict that this family faces.
The film sets out within this Vietnamese family to show an interdependence and how the martial tensions, and father-older-mother tension of these Vietnamese parents are affecting their three sons, their marriage and effects their troubles have on Mui and the head servant. Mui quickly learns she resembles the deceased daughter of the man, and happens to possess a happy, modest and beautiful disposition, which lands her a good home and life.
The obviously dark and ritual killing of insects by the middle son, shows the disfunction in the intimacy between the father and the mother and how the the anger is being distributed within the family. This is contrasted by Mui keeping some crickets in a small cage and feeding them as they play. This has to do with the failed sexual tension between father and mother, grieving grandmother and in the formal upbringing of the boys.

The film is provocative and is strongly depicting hierarchy, the roles of men and woman and the weaving of their energies, lacks of reciprocity, lasting bonds, changes and separations, big challenges that we often do not consider in our modern lives.
The film shows these stark grave issues in a tender simple yet clear, typical to asian culture way, the fatherly, motherly and sisterly affection between the relationships in the film weaves them with Mui’s life and happy nature as a servant, intentionally incompletely albeit as she is assigned out of the family after 10 years of her service and brought onto the pianist’s household (a man she mets as a child) as a servant and her beauty, charm, charisma and sensuality destroy another woman’s life and pianist’s engagement when he falls in love with Mui.
This film is lovely in how we are being multicultural, vulnerable, strong, beautiful, mean, and human.

By Maria Aleksa Szewczyk

Maria Aleksa Sonam Wangmo (she/Goddess) 🖋 my family name is Szewczyk. 🌴🦦🌴
I am weird. I believe in nature & nurture. I am an Ayurvedic Life-Style Counselor. I have a husband Loten Dahortsang. I have a daughter Kata.
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I have a mandala.
I have Big Love in my life. I have children.
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Art, culture & language of women 💃🏻
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