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You know, kids, sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a simple steak.  A nice sirloin devoid of sauces, spices and other frippery is a joy forever.  I admit to being preconditioned to twists and turns and unforeseen intrigues particularly from independent movies.  To make themselves stand out, budding directors employ their cleverest manoeuvres to get their projects noticed.  Owl and the Sparrow, the first feature directed by Stephane Gauger, is peculiar in its unabashed sentimentality and romantic simplicity and is utterly refreshing for it.

Owl and Sparrow consists of three storylines that meet in the middle.  It begins in rural Vietnam, where a little girl is scolded for a screw-up any bored small child would make.  We learn that Thuy is an orphan and the scolder is her uncle who owns the bamboo factory where 10-year old Thuy works.  Wounded from the reprimand, Thuy packs her most precious belongings in a pink Barbie Princess backpack and high-tails it to the big city.  

Some kindly Saigon urchins show Thuy the ropes of surviving on the streets, peddling postcards and flowers while dodging the officials who routinely scour the alleys to bring homeless kids to the orphanages they dread more than life outside.  At the same time that Thuy is leaving her unhappy life behind, Hai is having his only joy forcibly pried away from him.  As one of the keepers in a dilapidated city zoo, Hai is suffering from a double case of heartbreak, first when his fiancée gives him the gate, next when city officials inform him they’ve decided to sell a baby elephant Hai has raised from birth.  The lonely pachyderm buff is plummeted into depression at the thought of losing his only friend.  In her own world of loneliness, Lan is a lovely stewardess who’s been discreetly carrying on an affair with a married man for ages.  Lan has made herself an emotional shut-in, self-sabotaging dates set up by mystified acquaintances who can’t understand why such a beautiful lady is all alone.  Chance works mysteriously between the three characters with Thuy as the tie sweetly binding them all.  Both adults are mesmerised by Thuy’s clear-eyed perception that forces each of them to break out of their self-imposed purgatories and eventually Lan and Hai join together to protect the little girl.

The grainy, faux-vérité cinematography captures the backstreets of Saigon and the outlying countryside. Many scenes reveal unwitting extras and real daily life in the shooting locations, adding to the fly-on-the-wall feel of the story.  The naturalness of the performances only furthers the feeling of intimacy.  Pham Thi Han in her debut as Thuy, is the heart of the entire enterprise.  Han is so intuitive, unaffected and winning that her every dubious pout gives the audience a reason to fret.  Surely, such likeable characters have to suffer some awful turn, don’t they?  The prospects of Thuy’s life back at the factory, uneducated, uninspired and unloved, is harrowing enough. Owl and the Sparrow is character study at its gentlest and most basic.  I actually found it refreshing to be so enrapt by the story of this little girl and the new family she finds, that my natural cynicism didn’t stand a chance.

Simple? Yes.  Predictable? Uh-huh.  Hypnotic, heartfelt and utterly charming?  Definitely.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

January 16th, 2009

 

Owl and the Sparrow begins a limited engagement in California. Catch it if you can.

 

January 16, 2009

Los Angeles - Laemmle Sunset 5

Orange County - Regal Garden Grove 16

Orange County - Irvine Westpark 8

 

January 23, 2009

San Jose, CA - Camera 3

 

 

 

 

 

© 2006-2017 The Diva Review.com

 

 

Photos

(Courtesy of 

Wave Releasing, Inc.)

 

 

 

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