‘The Scent of the Green Papaya’

Languid, hypnotic, the debut feature film of Vietnamese-French director, Trần Anh Hùng (Norwegian Wood, At the Height of Summer), is both enchanting and frustrating – an enigmatic first chapter marred by a descent into (restrained) melodrama.

It’s 1951 and a young servant girl, Mui (Man San Lu), arrives at the comfortable Saigon home of a textile family. What follows is a beautifully observed slice-of-life portrait of the everyday. It’s a simple narrative gently told – little dialogue with scenes stretched out: Mui washing the floors with the youngest boy watching, food prepared and served: the mother dealing with her three sons alongside the running of the house and the textile outlet. But Mui (Nu Yên-Khê Tran – At the Height of Summer) leaves the household some 10 years later as a live-in servant to a wealthy young pianist and his suspicious and jealous fiancée.

It’s authentic, it’s detailed, it’s quite beautiful. But the luminosity of the early (and longer) first part of the narrative loses its way in the need to tell a more dramatic tale. The result is an imbalance in the telling of its story.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1994.

Rating: 58%