The Scent Of Green Papaya: Review

The Scent Of Green Papaya: Review

The Scent Of Green Papaya: Review. By Joe Muldoon.

Quietness, slowness, sweetness. Such a triadic spirit has never been so delicately employed as in The Scent of Green Papaya. Opening in 1950s Saigon, we join Mùi (Man San Lu), a young girl under new employment as a servant to a rich merchant family. We see the limited world afforded to servants through her eyes, hear the gentle twang of the đàn nguyệt’s strings through her ears, and feel the oppressive humidity of Vietnam’s climate through her pores.

The dreamy innocence of childhood shields Mùi from the disharmony of her new home; the once-wealthy family faces financial troubles as a result of the father’s reckless spending habits, and now relies solely upon the mother’s small business for an income. The family matriarch, the father’s widowed mother-in-law, spends her days praying alone in her upstairs room. Having tragically lost a young daughter, the mother holds a great fondness for her new servant, Mùi being the same age as her deceased child.



In spite of her testy surroundings, Mùi is curious about the world around her, keenly taking every opportunity to explore the environment through her senses. Her sleeping quarters being by the house’s courtyard, the girl is able to stand by her window and gaze at the beautiful greenery, greeted by the scent of green papaya. From dribbling dewdrops to scurrying ants to fruit ripening on trees, everything in the natural world piques Mùi’s interest.

As time flows by, the family’s fortune dwindles further, yet Mùi’s inquisitiveness and contentment remain unchanged. Unable to afford to keep her, the family is forced to end their employment of the now-adult Mùi (Nu Yên-Khê Tran), sending her instead to work for a family friend, a young concert pianist. Quickly finding her stride in her new home, Mùi also finds herself developing feelings for her handsome new employer.

A delightful billet-doux to the aesthetics of everyday life, The Scent of Green Papaya is as slow as it is sweet, offering more contemplative silence than concrete plot. Director Anh Hung Tran is in no rush to tell Mùi’s story, relishing in the film’s tranquil quietude. To put into words what this picture means is by no means an easy task, for The Scent of Green Papaya is more than a film; it is a thought, a feeling, an emotion; it is innocence, beauty, turmoil; it is enchanting, magical, mundane. It is treasure.

By Joe Muldoon


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