The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama  |   Release Date - Jan 28, 1994 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - France, Vietnam  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Todd Kristel

This is not a movie that you watch for action-packed scenes, scenery-chewing performances, witty dialogue, or convoluted plot twists. Instead, this is a slow-paced film that emphasizes the rhythms, textures, and quiet beauty of daily life. The film is based primarily on appreciating small moments such as juice flowing from a papaya or a lizard climbing out of a vase; the camera lingers to savor these images, then moves deeper into the frame to find further levels of visual detail, just as a child might slowly explore the surrounding world. Meanwhile, the soundtrack reinforces the serene mood through music, which is performed on traditional Vietnamese instruments and piano, and natural sounds such as crickets and rain. The issues raised by the film, such as the effect of French colonialism on Vietnamese culture, are addressed in a relatively understated manner (with a few exceptions, such as the symbolism of a scene in which someone drips hot wax onto a group of worker ants). The Scent of Green Papaya seems to express a yearning for a simpler time when people, particularly women, accepted traditional social roles; some viewers may be put off by this apparent attitude, particularly since the film doesn't compensate for it with in-depth characterization. Also, some viewers are likely to find the film dull because of the languid pace and minimal plot. However, the movie is gorgeous enough to merit viewing if you're in a patient mood and willing to tolerate the film's limitations.