Owl and the Sparrow Breathes Life into a Staid Genre


The humanistic ensemble drama has gotten such a bad name in recent years, thanks to ponderous high-profile entries like Crash and Babel, that a bare-bones plot description of Owl and the Sparrow might convince you that you’ve seen this movie before—and, more importantly, that you don’t want to see it again. Still, don’t let that discourage you from seeking out writer-director-cinematographer Stephane Gauger’s lovely debut, which tracks a week in the separate lives of three young Vietnamese people: a flight attendant on holiday (Cat Ly), a zoo employee (Le The Lu), and a 10-year-old runaway (Pham Thi Han). As expected, the characters cross paths amid the hustle and bustle of Saigon’s eight million residents, but Gauger forgoes the usual convoluted narrative coincidences in order to craft a refreshingly simple look at loneliness and tentative connection. Those hoping for grander political commentary about Saigon’s urban poverty will be disappointed; Gauger is less concerned with sociology than in following his guarded but intensely empathetic characters through this slight, resonant story. At its core, Owl and the Sparrow is yet one more film that preaches the importance of opening your heart and reaching out to those around you, but that treacly sentiment is nicely undercut by the unvarnished naturalness of the actors—particularly young Han, who doesn’t have a cutesy bone in her body.