The Scent of Green Papaya

Scent of papaya cover

Vietnamese Peer Review of “The Scent of Green Papaya”-James Cote

The scent of green papaya is a great story of the life of a serving girl in central Vietnam.  Her masters are textile creators and have clearly done well for themselves as they have a very nice home in central Saigon.  Many aspects of life are incorporated in this film especially family values and loyalty. Since the story takes place over the course of the main characters life, a girl named Mui, it takes some time and characters undergo changes throughout. The start of the film includes the introduction of Mui’s masters and her day to day chores such as preparing meals and cleaning of all sorts of things. While she goes about her tasks she is either completely ignored as is more often the case or tormented by the youngest son of the family who enjoys playing tricks and making her life miserable by forcing her to re-do work she already has done by spilling buckets dropping things on the ground and more.  As the story progresses and Mui becomes more of a “member” of the family these incidents stop and the story focuses more on dialogue and interaction between Mui and the family she serves.  Music is a constant throughout the movie, often strings of the Mandolin can be heard and the father of the family is found to be playing it at the beginning of the film.  The mandolin adds an element of calm and serenity to the otherwise not so lavish life style of Mui  as the film progresses the mandolin is truly the only thing that remains constant, besides the green papayas growing in the central garden of the house. While all this is going on there is one almost haunting and foreboding aspect of the movie is the threat of the war with America, air sirens and other large aircraft can be heard throughout the film constantly reminding the viewer of the war. Time passes, the father of the household eventually dies, the mother takes to prayer, and the two eldest sons leave the household, which causes Mui to switch families when she is older.  She eventually catches the eye of a friend of her old household and he takes her as his own, ending his engagement with another woman. He teaches her how to be a lady and how to act in society and everyone lives happily ever after. Overall the story is one of family and family values, of who belongs and what belonging to a family means.

Official Review

The film is highly culture based and focuses on the lifestyles of the people in Vietnam. The imagery used focuses on the people and the scenery around them but mostly on expression which is very difficult to capture in Asian films. Many of the scenes involve small interactions between one or two people and the one thing extremely noticeable about the Vietnamese people is that they do not speak much. This is very good acting and shows the actors true understanding of their people.  The imagery at use in this movie is fantastic and a true representation of Saigon and Vietnam as a whole. The city is not very pretty but the homes are beautiful and try to show off the nature of the country.  The dialogue is accurate in both terms of language and mannerisms, the Vietnamese do not speak often but when they do it is normally for good reasons either instruction or meaningful conversation however they do not talk when they do not need to. This is a common aspect of Asian films and the Vietnamese display it perfectly especially early in the film where Mui is practically a mute not talking to any of the family except the elder servant and the mother of the family.  While the film did fall short on the lighting and vividness of the scenes being captured this may be due to lack of current technology which certainly explains why it is so hard to actually see the characters in dark scenes. They use these scenes to their advantage however holding a decent amount of conversations in the night time. Many of the most important scenes are at night enforcing the lifestyle of work during the day and have discussions over tea at night. All the cultural aspects of the film were accurate and overall the only thing that may have needed improvement was the lighting during these dark scenes. I enjoy being able to actually see a character in the dark not watching conversations between silhouettes.

 

Movie Poster:

I chose the image for this based off of the best elements in Vietnamese media trends. After watching the film the decision for using the young version of Mui was necessary as it does take up a majority of the film and I felt was by far a better image than any of the adult scenes as they are a great deal darker than the earlier scenes.  As I have examined local preferences many of the more popular websites have landscape imagery incorporated in their site. This led to the use of a scene where the lead character is depicted in the internal garden of the home she serves in.  The green papayas growing there are one of the first things she interacts with in her new home.   Mui appears happy in this image, this is not always the case during the film however her face which shows a surprising lack of emotion sometimes does shift when expressing gratitude or content.  Images of People are not altogether normal in Vietnamese mass media however images accompanying text are. This led to the decent, some would say excessive amount of text I incorporated into my design. However I knew if I was to use text I would have to make sure focus is not drawn away from the characters face. In order to do this I took the title and put into the upper left corner, this being a popular area for logos and titles to appear is an ideal choice for this especially considering what else I had to think about. The Vietnamese are a text heavy people, so instead of just using the title of the movie I also incorporated the two actresses to play Mui along the right side.  To add even more text to the image I decided to add the director into the lower left corner to show respect and fill the poster even more.  The coloring was the most difficult part of the poster; I needed to use text which would pop to the Vietnamese and according to my research that would be either red or yellow. Neither of these colors are ideal for text, I attempted to use red however a vibrant red made the text impossible to read and the dark red wouldn’t work with the shadows from the foliage in the background also making them illegible. Yellow was the logical choice at that point, however it was not nearly as clear as I wish it was. In order to make it more legible I darkened it to a slightly orange-ish color and left it at that, other colors would not have been as effective and I do feel that the placement of the title and that of the director are more important than the actresses’ whose last name may not be as legible as hoped.  The picture does the film justice I think and honestly with its eye catching yellow title and the photo is that of the characters face and not on a vague reference such as the green papayas used in the film should be great at grabbing attention and inspiring interest.

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