Film tech knows good storytelling, too

December 5, 2007

art

HAWAII FILM FESTIVAL
“Owl and the Sparrow” is Stephane Gauger’s first feature film and won a Best Narative Award in San Francisco’s International Asian American Film Festival.

Film tech knows good storytelling, too

Once upon a time, a little but big-hearted orphan girl ran away from her mean uncle and tried to find her way through life in the big city …

If “Owl and the Sparrow” had a narrator, that’s how this contemporary fairy tale would begin. And if one film were chosen as the audience favorite at this year’s Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival, it should be this one.

“Owl and the Sparrow”

Screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 12:30 p.m. Friday at Dole Cannery multiplex, as part of the Hawaii International Film Festival Go to www.hiff.org for ticket info

This endearing feature shot in Vietnam is part of the festival’s American Immigrant Filmmaker on Profile showcase, the filmmaker in question being Stephane Gauger, born in Vietnam and raised in Southern California. Trained in film lighting by cinematographer and former festival guest Matthew Libatique, Gauger has a background not only in film tech work, but has also written and directed short narrative and documentary films. “Owl and the Sparrow” is his first feature — Gauger wrote, directed and did the bulk of the camerawork — and it’s an absolute gem. (The film has already won a Best Narrative Award at this year’s San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.)

Clearly familiar with the urban hustle and bustle of Saigon, Gauger brings a cinematic sensibility akin to the French new wave of the 1960s, shooting totally on location with a hand-held camera and live sound. It’s this sense of naturalistic immediacy and total immersion into Saigon city life that gives his film its edge. The visuals also work in contrast to the meditative and minimalist guitar-and-electronics soundtrack by Pete Nguyen.

But all the adept technical work wouldn’t have amounted to much if Gauger didn’t have an excellent cast, and he gets involving performances from his main actors, in particular the remarkable Pham Thi Han. It’s her wholehearted portrayal of the willful and imaginative Thuy that gets the audience to believe in her mission of creating a loving family for herself.

Over the course of a week selling flowers on the street, Thuy meets and befriends two lonely people — flight attendant Lan (Cat Ly) and zoo keeper Hai (Le The Lu) — both of whom are suffering from matters of the heart. But Thuy’s matchmaking goes awry when Uncle Minh (Nguyen Hau) shows up searching for his runaway niece, finding her in a city orphanage.

The three adults play their characters well, with Cat Ly particularly fine as the single woman.

Gauger does a great job balancing the fanciful and realistic elements of his story. And, yes, there is the requisite happy ending, but it doesn’t feel forced, and ends on a lovely scene that promises a future filled with love.

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