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The Scent of Green Papaya

Connoisseurs of cinema have a special affection for utterly artificial films made in studios. Not the obvious ones, such as musicals or movies from mid-century classical Hollywood, but films that could have been made on location if the director hadn't preferred the artificial and controlled environment of a soundstage — even for "exteriors." When asked why he went all the way to Japan to film the studio-bound tale The Saga of Anatahan, Joseph von Sternberg replied, "Because I am a poet." That's the spirit that drives a small clutch of odd, minimalist movies that includes Alain Cavalier's Therese, The Nasty Girl, and the lush works of Guy Madden, whose elaborate Fabergé eggs are all shot in studios. Another one is Tran Anh Hung's Mui du du xanh, from 1993, otherwise known as The Scent of Green Papaya. In this film the director re-created the Vietnam of his youth inside a French studio. Written with Patricia Petit, Papaya concerns a little girl, Mui (Man san Lu, then Tran Nu Yn-Kh), a 10-year-old who comes to work in a Saigon household in 1951. Hung charts the girl's coming of age and the various revelations she has and truths she learns about her family. Though nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, and winning the Cannes Golden Camera award, Papaya didn't click much outside the art film market, and that's probably due to its deliberate, dignified pace. In some ways the film is a parody of what Asian art films are suppose to be like: watching paint dry. Yet it succeeds for those who have the patience for it by sheer physical beautiful. Papaya is obsessed with the sensuality of sleeping bodies, or vegetables frying in a wok. Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a fine full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with adequate Dolby 2.0 mono audio and English subtitles. Extras consist of the theatrical trailer, plus two other art film trailers from Columbia. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm



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