Saturday, May 30, 2020
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Owl and the Sparrow: A Look Inside Vietnam

The Beatles passionately fantasized about this, Cassavetes’ “The Notebook” (2004) was purely based on this, and Cinderella found this when she located her missing shoe. Can you figure it out?
As the only universal bond that can break the barrier of language and culture, this less-than-three phenomenon, labeled love, is the most wanted item on everyone’s lists. Responding to this trend, director Stephane Gauger’s “Owl and the Sparrow” (2007) is a sophisticated, simplistic take on the classic love story, but it’s done like you have never seen before.
“The movie was shot in Saigon, Vietnam, the city of my birth. I wrote the film as a love letter to the city,” Gauger said.
Flight attendant Cat Ly, zookeeper Le The Lu and runaway Pham Thi Han are all missing the same things in life: love and family. These solitary characters meet by chance in modern-day Saigon, where their lives collide and transform to become one in the course of five days. Through their experiences together, they find the purpose for the rest of their lives – each other.
“The movie wasn’t about the plot,” said Hannah Moshier, a second-year English major. “I didn’t sit there and think ‘what’s going to happen next?’ I knew what was coming, but I was still enthralled in the movie for the characters. So much of it was shown more than said; I loved every minute of it. Everyone should see this movie.”
Gauger also stated that “the film is about how Saigon has opened up in the last 10 years through economic and social changes. The zookeeper represents old, traditional Vietnam, while the flight attendant characterizes new Vietnam. Both of them are brokenhearted souls. The small, [runaway] child bridges together the new and the old world.”
The film was awarded the Crystal Heart Award in the Indianapolis-based Heartland Film Festival, while also receiving a nomination for the John Cassavetes Award for film in the Independent’s Spirit Awards. The Big Apple Film Festival named the film as Best Feature Film, and both the Los Angeles Film Festival and the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival honored the film with the title of Best Narrative Feature.
Gauger added, “I wanted to be able to show the film internationally [by placing] universal themes of love and family that anyone can relate to. I originally intended the film to be seen by a European audience, the critics were a bonus.”
Gauger was raised in Garden Grove in Orange County, California, but he frequented France over summers with his relatives.
“Growing up in the suburbs is great as a kid, but the European influence on me [unleashed] my creative side,” Gauger said.
This creativity has appeared to pay off as there has been a general positive reaction to the film.
“It was so touching to see life and love through the eyes of a child,” said Rachel Han, a first-year Spanish major. “This movie made me think, laugh, cry, smile and sigh an extended ‘awwww.’ I think that the whole audience felt some sort of attachment to the characters. It was beautifully made and wonderfully enjoyable.”
This was the first feature film for actress Pham Thi Han, the runaway Thuy. Gauger believes that she exceeded expecetations.
“Two days before we started shooting, she was cast, and yet she was able to memorize everything. She completely immersed herself into that role, which made people believe who she was. We were very lucky,” Gauger said.
MTV personality Tila Tequila, star of “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila,” “lent herself for a promo [for the film] so her fans could support a Vietnamese movie being shown in America. She wanted to bridge the gap with the youth,” Gauger said.
Gauger also explained that ‘”Owl and the Sparrow” is a vision of Vietnam usually unseen.
“Vietnam is portrayed in historical films that focus on wars and such; people don’t get to see Saigon in the present,” Gauger said. “I wanted to be able to take the audience on a journey to see the beauty of Vietnam. Making films, Vietnamese or English, helps me speak to a general audience and tell them a universal story. It’s a really special film and I’d love students to see it.”

“Owl and the Sparrow” is currently showing at Irvine Westpark 8.