The Scent of Green Papaya (Mùi du du xanh – L’odeur de la papaye verte) (a J!-ENT Asian Blu-ray Disc Review)
April 28, 2011 by Dennis Amith
If you enjoy the purity of an Ozu film, the depiction of life from an Edward Yang film, then one must experience the sheer beauty of Tran Anh Hung’s “The Scent of Green Papaya”. A beautiful, delightful and an enchanting film and a Blu-ray release which I highly recommended!
Images courtesy of © 1992 Les Productions Lazennec -La SFP Cinema – La Sept Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: The Scent of Green Papaya (Mùi du du xanh – L’odeur de la papaye verte)
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1993
DURATION: 104 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (letterboxed 1:66:1), Linear PCM 2.0 Vietnamese with Optional English Subtitles
COMPANY: Le Pacte/Lorber Films
RATED: Not Rated
RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2011
Written and Directed by Anh Hung Tran
Producer: Christophe Rossignon
Associate Producer: Adeline Lecallier, Alain Rocca
Music by Tiet Ton-That
Cinematography by Benoit Delhomme
Edited by Nicole Dedieu, Jean-Pierre Roques
Casting by Nicolas Cambois
Production Design by Alain Negre
Costume Design by Jean-Philippe Abril
Tran Nu Yen-Khe – Mui (age 20)
Man San Lu – Mui (age 10)
Thi Loc Truong as La Mere
Anh Hoa Nguyen as La vieille Ti
Hoa Hoi Vuong as Khuyne
Ngoc Trung Tran as Le Pere
Vantha Talisman as Thu
Keo Souvannavong as Trung
Van Oanh Nguyen as Mr. Thuan
Gerard Neth as Tin
Nthat Do as Lam
Thi Hai Vo as La grand-mere
Thi Thanh Tra Nguyen as Mai
An Academy Award® nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, Tran Anh Hung’s “luxuriant, visually seductive debut” (New York Times) recreates antebellum Vietnam through both the wide eyes of childhood and the deep blush of first love. In 1951 Saigon, 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, while earning the fragile affection of the household’s grieving matriarch. As she comes of age, the now grown Mui (Tran Nu Yen-Khe) finds her relationship with a handsome pianist she has admired since childhood growing in depth and complexity.
Though steeped in writer-director Tran Anh Hung’s southeast Asian heritage, The Scent of Green Papaya was realized entirely within a Parisian soundstage. The film’s heady, scrupulously detailed and wholly authentic depiction of a society in decline, a family in quiet turmoil, and lovers on the threshold of romance earned the Camera D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. A timeless evocation of life’s universal enchantment and a powerful portrait of a vanished world, The Scent of Green Papaya is “a film to cherish.” (Roger Ebert)
In 1993, “The Scent of Green Papaya (Mùi du du xanh – L’odeur de la papaye verte), a Vietnamese-language film produced in France by Lazennec Production and written/directed by Vietnamese-French director Tran Anh Hung, became the winner of the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
The film would receive a Cesar Award for Best Debut and was shortlisted for the 1993 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Although the film is set in Vietnam, “The Scent of Green Papaya” was shot in a soundstage in Boulogne, France. The film would also be the first major collaboration between Tran Anh Huang and composer Ton-That Tiet. This collaboration would set the stage for Tran Anh Hung who would later direct the film “Cyclo” (1995) and “The Vertical Ray of the Sun” (2000), the three films would be known as Tran Anh Hung’s “Vietnam Trilogy”.
And now this delightful film receives its Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Lorber Films.
“The Scent of Green Papaya” takes plae in 1951 Saigon and begins with a young 10-year-old girl named Mui (played by Man Su Lu). Mui poor servant girl who is taken in by a well-to-do family and Mui becomes the youngest servant at the home.
While the home and function of the family, which include parents and their two sons to be normal, the truth is that things are not as simple as they seem. From the pictures that Mui sees at the home, she notices pictures of a young girl who apparently is not at the home and we realize that she was a daughter of the family who died at a young age.
Apparently, the father at the home is often absent. In fact, several times he has taken the money (family savings) and left for a long period of time, spending the money on himself and for women. But the last time he did so, his daughter was sick and because the family had no money, by the time he came back home, he found out that his daughter had died. And thus, the father has blamed himself for his indiscretions and had not left since then.
The mother on the other hand continues to mourn for her daughter, often sleeping or not in the mood to do much. But when Mui moves to the home, the reason why the mother takes interest in her is because Mui is the same age of what her daughter would be if she was alive.
The elder servant tries to teach the naive (and uneducated) Mui how things are at the home and for Mui, she doesn’t mind too much of working and being away from her own family. In fact, she’s quite intrigue by her surroundings. From the people that visit the house, the older son who seems to be normal and the youngest child, who likes to cause problems for Mui for the fun of it. But Mui takes life in stride. She doesn’t complain, she just lives her life, appreciating the plant life especially the lizards, frogs, birds and even the crickets around her. She does her daily chores and making sure that she helps the family. And also a young girl with an inquisitive mind, of wanting to know more about the family from an elder servant, she also finding herself attracted to a man, a musician that visits the family.
But unfortunately, things go wrong with the family when the father of the home, once again takes the money from the family and leaves. This leaves the mother and her two children with no money and also no money for the servants. The mother tries to do all she can to make ends meet by selling their belongings but unfortunately, it becomes too difficult.
The second story arc of “The Scent of Green Papaya” focuses on a 20-year-old Mui (played by Tran Nu Yen-Khe). Times have gotten tough for the family that the only way they could financially survive is by cutting expenses and that means not having a servant anymore.
As Mui has been a big part of the family, it is decided that she will be the servant for one of their friends, a pianist who frequently visited the home and a man that Mui has always been interested in.
How would the next stage of Mui’s life be, now living and being a servant of the man that she is interested in. Will life change for Mui?
“The Scent of Green Papaya” is presented in 1080p (1:66:1). The cinematography by Benoit Delhomme (“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, “The Proposition”, “1408”) is fantastic! It may appear that the film was shot outdoors but it was all shot in a soundstage, thus giving the director complete control of the lighting of the film. The beautiful greens of the plants really stick out, the detail of the mosquito netting is also visible, it’s just the key moments of the film, may it be Mui cutting the papaya, to her looking at her crickets or her taking a bath that really shine in this film.
Even at times where there are no characters, the cinematography shooting the characters behind windows, behind fences or closeups of frogs on plants, ants coated with candle wax, there are many of these moments that are just beautiful to watch. I didn’t even detect any banding, scratches or debris (considering this is a early ’90s film and I have been very vocal on how many late ’80s to ’90s films look hazy, aged or lacking vibrancy). For the most part, Kino Lorber did a wonderful job with the transfer of “The Scent of Green Papaya” and the film looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Scent of Green Papaya” is presented in Linear PCM 2.0 Vietnamese with English subtitles. With the soundtrack in lossless 2.0 and knowing this would be a front-channel driven film, having watched this film before, I personally chose to watch the film with stereo on all channels. The reason being is that the film captures its surroundings quite well, from the birds and crickets chirping, the rain hitting the leaves of the plants, the feet walking on the wooden floors, the music playing on the piano, this is a film in which I wanted to be immersed in the same living area as the characters. To hear around me of what they are hearing and for the most part, I felt the ambiance sounds very good but also the violins coming from Ton-That Tiet’s score. It was very well-done!
Dialogue is crisp and clear but it’s important to note that there is not much dialogue in this film, especially when you reach the second half of the film, the majority of the dialogue actually happens within the last 10 minutes of the film. But it’s the cinematography and the performance that captures you visually while the ambiance of Mui’s surrounding and the musical score that really grab your attention.
“The Scent of Green Papaya” comes with the following special features:
- Behind the Scenes – (12:43) A behind-the-scenes video footage of the making of “The Scent of Green Papaya”.
- Theatrical Trailer – (:58) The original theatrical trailer for “The Scent of Green Papaya”)
- Stills – Using your remote, you can view a gallery of 12 stills from the film.
“The Scent of Green Papaya” comes with a slipcase.
“The Scent of Green Papaya” is one of those films that captures you for its visual beauty, its magnificent cinematography and to show that even if a film was not shot in location but in a soundstage, by clever stage planning, camera movement and lighting can achieve stunning results.
The efficacy of this film stems from both director Tran Anh Hung, cinematographer Benoit Delhome and composer Ton-That Tiet working together and producing a film that captures harmony within story, visual and audio is what I have always remembered about this film.
The first half of “The Scent of Green Papaya” for me, contains the purity of what I enjoyed from films from directors like Yasujiro Ozu. While there is not much dialogue in the film, the first half is seeing a 10-year-old, poor servant girl experiencing life and seeing it differently than most people. She is enamored by the beauty of life, may it be plant life, the lizards and frogs on the plants, the crickets and birds chirping, these are sounds of nature that make her smile and happy.
But it’s also about the purity of one experiencing another family’s life. Mui comes from a poor family and she has to work in order to make money to provide to her family at a young age, even if it means not seeing them for a long time. But the film rarely captures anything negative of this young girl. If anything, it’s her reactions to what is happening around her that captures the audience. We witness purity at a young age, no sense of amorality or immorality, she takes things in stride.
And as I bring up the Ozu comparison, there is a sort of familiarity with the brothers in the first story arc of “The Scent of Green Papaya” as the older son tries to help the younger brother, while the younger brother is a bit mischievous as he likes to do things that would tick of Mui. May it be throwing her laundry on the floor, putting a dead lizard on her shoulder and then ending his juvenile torment with a fart.
In many ways, because the family suffers from how the father leaves them with nothing is very unfortunate. The film doesn’t wallow in the darkness of the father’s deviance but see how a family tries to survive and for young Mui, having been poor, like any other day, she takes things in stride.
The second half of the film is also quite interesting as it focuses on the 20-year-old Mui, still the same person but now seeing the reality of the family she has lived with for ten years, no longer being able to afford her but then moving to a new home but working for a man that she has always had an interest in. She cooks, she cleans, it’s the same Mui taking life in stride and doing her job and staying happy with her natural surroundings.
The story may seem anti-climactic but it’s a film about life. Its presentation by director Tran Anh Hung is absolutely beautiful and beauty is captured visually, but also putting us in Mui’s position, the sounds that she loves to hear, we get to hear. The beauty that she sees, we will get to see.
People who love films that may seem meaningless to others but brilliantly capture life, from its happiness or ups and down with a realistic setting visually and audio-wise via ambiance will love “The Scent of Green Papaya”. If you love Ozu films or even Taiwan New Wave films ala Edward Yang’s “Yi Yi” can appreciate a film like “The Scent of Green Papaya”.
It is a film that requires no tension, no dark ending or even any kind of closure, in fact, it’s a film that hardly requires any dialogue. It’s a film all about life. Nothing less and nothing more. It’s perfect as is.
These films may be slow-moving to others, while others who are appreciative of arthouse films will love the visual cinematography and how the film’s beauty plays to how Mui looks at life.
And if you enjoy this film, it is definitely recommended you also check out the other two films in Tran Anh Hung’s “Vietnam Trilogy” and one can hope that Kino Lorber may license and release these other films on Blu-ray in the near future.
As for the Blu-ray release, “The Scent of Green Papaya” is beautiful and Kino Lorber once again has done a great job on the transfer. I’m always expecting substandard PQ when it comes to early ’90s films on Blu-ray but in this case, this film looks great on Blu-ray! And the audio, via lossless was also a great to listen to as well. While, there aren’t many special features on this Blu-ray release, I wish there was a commentary track or possible interview and revisiting the director or talent of the film nearly 20-years later.
But overall, “The Scent of Green Papaya” is a beautiful, delightful and enchanting film and a Blu-ray release which I definitely recommended!
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