Saigon today is still a city of lost children in Stephane Gauger's "Owl and the Sparrow," though in the film there is hope and optimism running through the streets where they live -- perhaps that is what has washed the city clean of any visible poverty or decay.
Unfolding over four days -- and shot over just 15 -- the lives of young orphan Thuy (Pham Thi Han), airline stewardess Lan (Cat Ly) and zookeeper Hai (Le The Lu) intersect, and connections are made that in some way will save each of them. The trio is wounded by life and loss, but in Gauger's vision the scars aren't visible. Ho Chi Minh City, as Saigon is now called, and Vietnam itself are offered up with exceeding care through his lens.
It is spring and the city and its people are in transition, shedding the war-torn past like last year's winter coat. While the irrepressible Thuy, like the city, presses ahead to embrace the future, Lan and Hai are frozen by broken hearts. It is up to Thuy to orchestrate the thaw you hope will come.
Though Gauger was raised in the U.S., he has said "Owl and the Sparrow" is a love letter to the country of his birth. Even in the bamboo factory run by the irascible uncle from whom Thuy escapes, Gauger finds a certain beauty -- the blade as it cuts the wood, the hands of the workers tying the bamboo into precise bundles, their heads bowed in the task.