Owl and the Sparrow (Cu va chim se se) Directed by: Stephane Gauger Cast: Han Thi Pham, Cat Ly, The Lu Le Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: PG Release Date: May 15, 2009
Plot: Thuy (Pham), a young orphan, runs away from her home in the country to go to the city. She tries to support herself, but is also helped by two kind people; a flight attendant (Li) and zookeeper (Le). Together, the three make up an unconventional family.
Who’s It For? Fans of foreign film. Probably not good for people who worry about kids on their own, though way less scary than Slumdog Millionaire.
Expectations: I didn't have any preconceptions about this film.
Han Thi Pham as Thuy: Despite being so young, Pham gives an incredibly natural performance as Thuy, a runaway on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Her mix of practicality and naivete is both charming and heartbreaking. For a child in her first film role, she's totally amazing. She seems completely childlike but not precocious. I'm very impressed. Score: 9
Cat Ly as Lan: Lan's a lonely soul. A flight attendant having an affair with a married man, she seems to lack other friends. Though she aids Thuy, she seems to need her as much as she is needed. Ly's a beautiful woman who seems to genuinely bond with Thuy's character. But she never seems to really click with Hai the way she is meant to. Score: 5
The Lu Le as Hai: Le's a really beautiful man. He's so pretty that it's hard for him to convey much in the way of emotion. Still, I liked him. Hai's a stoic guy but genuinely good to Thuy. Too bad the whole getting over his former fiancee subplot didn't really work for me. Score: 5
Talking: Actions are more important than words in this film, but there's still some good dialogue. I liked Thuy's lines, she had the straight forwardness of a child. Gauger also wrote the film and did a good job of capturing the sweetness as well as the annoyance of talking with a kid. Score: 6
Sights: Though mainly shot handheld, the camera work is great. Gauger was a cinematographer before becoming a director so apparently he knew what he wanted. I especially loved all the shots of the zoo, it felt like the animals were right there next to the characters, even when they were separated by large obstacles. Score: 7
Sounds: I really liked the score for this film. It was mainly slow guitar. I was strongly reminded of another film I've seen recently but can't for the life of me remember. Any help? None the less, it is very beautiful. Score: 8
Best Scene: The first time Thuy feeds the sugarcane to the elephant. Hai and Thuy seem almost like siblings, and Thuy reacts like a child.
Ending: Not what I expected. I thought we were going for something more dour. Also, I didn't necessarily think that Thuy's uncle was a bad guy, just that he had a hard time dealing with kids.
Questions: Why does Hai give Thuy a mask to keep out the air pollution while riding his scooter, but neglect to give her a helmet? Would an airline really pay for a four day layover for a stewardess?
Rewatchability: Sure, I could see it again at some point. Maybe not right this minute.
Owl and the Sparrow makes a solid directorial debut by Gauger. He's definitely a visual director and he seems to be good with actors. Despite the advice of W.C. Fields, he uses both children and animals. The first half of the film is elegantly constructed and beautiful to watch, but as the plot and characters come together, I became less interested. Though Hai and Lan have strong relationships with Thuy individually, as a threesome they seem forced. It's like Gauger is trying to create an artificial nuclear family but he forgets to write a couple steps along the way that would make the adults seem in it for any reason other than loneliness. This is especially true because the film takes place over the course of less than a week.
Still, there's a lot to be said for this film, and anyone with a little patience who wants to give a new director a try should take some time out and give Owl and the Sparrow a chance.
Final Score: 6/10