The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

I’ve been watching a lot of slow-paced television series with tons of fight sequences that could barely keep me interested, and then late last night I decided to watch The Scent of Green Papaya, a film with practically nothing going on…and I couldn’t look away. I had never heard of it, and I was a kid when it first came out. I don’t know what I was expecting when selecting it, but I came out really loving this lyrical film.

Details, Please
The story starts off in 1951 in Saigon with a little girl named Mui becoming a servant to a middle class family. Ten year old Mui is played by Man San Lu and is so intelligent and curious about everything. There is something so serene about this film and Man San Lu plays Mui with such a sweet and gentle sort of spirit. She is much-loved in the Trang household by the mistress because she reminds her of her daughter that died years ago.

I can’t say that something really exciting happens, because it doesn’t. The film is basically what goes on everyday in two different households. It is extremely slow-paced and yet I was completely interested in every little detail. My mom made a teasing comment about the actors having difficultly learning their lines, because hardly anything was said. Really though, even if nothing was said, it would still be a great film. It reminded me of a ballet. I don’t know if it was because of how graceful everyone seemed, but it was just beautiful to watch. Simple everyday things became so entrancing.

Everything about this movie is subtle, even the different love stories. Nothing is demonstrative. We have an unrequited love of the little old grandpa Thuan, who continues to try to catch a glimpse of his love who he hasn’t seen in seven years. He befriends Mui in hopes that he could convince her to get his love to come into the courtyard where he could see her.Then there is Khuyen the pianist whom Mui has had a crush on since she was little. She goes to work for him when she gets older, she is played by Tran Nu Yên-Khê. This film represents both the love that breaks you down and then love that helps you grow. It’s beautiful.

The Scent of Green Papaya directed by Tran Anh Hung won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. I would highly recommend watching, but perhaps not when you are really tired. Perhaps you could make some sort of game for whenever Mui decides to tilt her head…which oddly enough reminded me of Detective Goren from Law & Order: Criminal Intent…That being said, please do give The Scent of Green Papaya a try.


  1. You know I started this World Cinema series because I realized I had so many foreign movies on my stacks and this is one of them. I bought it last year never having heard of it before and thought it could be quite good. I’m glad it is so beautiful and am looking forwad to it. Did you see “The Chinese Botanist’s Daughter”? I have a feeling they are similar, picture wise, lyrical. I liked it very much. I should re-watch and include it in my series.

    1. Caroline 🙂 I haven’t seen “The Chinese Botanist’s Daughter,” but I”ll be on the look out now. That World Cinema series is a cool idea, because recently I saw the Danish film “After the Wedding”… I had never seen a Danish film before and it was so good.

  2. I’ll have to add this to my list. I want to start watching more foreign movies. Recently I went to the British Film Institute and watched an independent Russian film and really enjoyed it. In my younger days I used to go to the theater all of the time to watch foreign films but for some reason I haven’t lately. Thanks for the suggestion. Unfortunately my service doesn’t have the one Caroline suggested.

    1. TBM, you know I saw the Korean film “The Man from Nowhere” and I thought it was awesome. I’ve only seen one Russian film it was called “Black Lightning” and the guy on the cover looks like Eminem:) Do you have Netflix? That’s where I saw all these foreign movies. I think it’s cool that you went to the BFI, I’ve never been there. I noticed that you joined the Charles Dickens Month and the BFI has the Dickens on Screen event up till February 28. Do you plan on going? That’s just neat…

      1. I didn’t know they were doing Dickens on Screen. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for the tip. I’m considering becoming a member of the BFI since I would like tickets to their movie festivals. We’ll see if my checkbook allows for it. We don’t have Netflix, but Lovefilm, which works the same way. I’ll have to check out the Man from Nowhere.

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