Volume 78, Number 52 | June 3 - 9, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Owl and the Sparrow” (-)      

Regrettably, this film did not come close to providing an enjoyable evening of entertainment at the theater.        

I wanted to see the picture because, like most Americans, I am fascinated with Vietnam.  During the Vietnam War, my sister took care of a Vietnamese child who had been injured in that war.  He lived with her and her family in their Orange County, New York home for about a year before returning to Vietnam.  Not long ago, she visited him in Vietnam where he now has his own family.  When I was a member of the City Council (1966-1968), I proposed a bill that would allow some Vietnamese children from the North and South to receive medical care in New York City’ municipal hospitals.  It never became law.      

The “Owl and the Sparrow” is a poorly concocted fairy tale involving the lives of three Vietnamese individuals.  Ten-year-old Thuy (Pham Thi Han) who has no parents, works for her uncle making bamboo trinkets.  Feeling abused, she runs away from his home. Lan (Cat Ly) is a 26-year-old airline stewardess who is having an affair with a married man.  The third main character, Hai (Le The Lu), takes care of an elephant at a local zoo.  He is distraught by the news that the zoo intends to sell the elephant to a zoo in India in order to reduce its expenses.      

The storyline of how the lives of the three individuals intertwine and how their issues are resolved is crudely portrayed, and the finale is unbelievable.  One truly enjoyable aspect of the film is the performance of Pham Thi Han.  She is a wonderful actress and indeed could be the Shirley Temple of Vietnam in the making.  On the other hand, some of the kids who did a wonderful job in “Slumdog Millionaire” are not doing so well in India.  (In Vietnamese, with English subtitles.)   

“O’Horten” (-)

The film’s principal character is Odd Horten (Baard Owe).  After 40 years of service as an engineer on the Oslo-Bergen line railroad in Norway, Horten reaches mandatory retirement at 67.  I did not find his adventures following that departure to be exciting, nor did I draw any inner meaning from them that audiences might find useful in conducting their daily lives.

In his New York Times review, A.O. Scott eloquently described “O’Horten” as “made up of meticulously constructed, deadpan scenes that turn on Keatonesque visual jokes,” adding the film “shows some affinity with other recent films of similar geographic provenance.  The slightly anachronistic mood and décor, as if we had wandered into a neighborhood untouched since sometime in the middle of the 20th century, shows clear affinities with the work of Aki Kaurismaki of Finland, many of whose characters are more dissolute versions of Horten.”

I’m either like the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” or I’m simply unable to appreciate a thoughtful story that most film critics seemed to enjoy.  As I watched the movie I thought of the old axiom — this is like watching grass grow.  For me, “O’Horten” was an hour and a half of absolute boredom. 

(In Norwegian, with English subtitles)

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