Movie Review: Vietnamese Dad teaches Polish daughter “The Taste of Pho”

A rigid, traditional Vietnamese dad and his Polish-born daughter stumble towards a connection in “The Taste of Phở,” a slight but engaging dramedy from Poland.

Long (Thang Long Do) is chef at Warsaw’s struggling, somewhat hidebound Ha Long restaurant.

His Phở soup and noodle dishes contribute to the homesickness of the owner (Gia Khai Ton) and his wife (Thi Thanh Minh Tran), who are ready to sell out and go “back home.”

Will Long stick it out? As he’s the father of a ten year old (Lena Nguyen), he probably will. Her mother may have died, but Maja’s devoted Polish grandmother further ties her to the only home she’s ever known.

We see his Zen devotion to cleaning the kitchen and the cigarette-butt littered street in front of the restaurant, devotion that extends to his careful ironing of Maja’s school skirt each day and the beautifully prepared Vietnamese lunch he packs for her.

Not every kid has a chef whip up a fancy meal like this on a daily basis. If Long knew she was changing into blue jeans and ditching the lunch en route to school every day, we know he’d stoically bear the hurt, but we’re sure he would feel it.

When the restaurant changes hands and the new Polish entrepreneur in charge redecorates, tactlessly gripes about the other Vietnamese kitchen staff (“Are they your family?”) not speaking English, fires them and just as tactlessly suggests Long make Thai food and sushi, Long wonders how much he can endure.

And that’s the very time that Maja’s acting-out goes public. She’s convinced that Dad is “forgetting Mom,” and making time with the pretty blonde (Aleksandra Domanska) in the building across the way. So she breaks out the binoculars and starts spying on them.

Writer-director Mariko Bobrik’s debut feature is a drama of subtle adult shadings and stresses, and comical childs-eye-view responses to change. What will break Long’s will, Maja’s rebellion or the Indian-immigrant assistants — who figure he’s “Japanese” — the new boss brings in to save money?

Long will have to adapt or abandon this job, and possibly even Poland. Maja’s biracial efforts to fit in at school have paid off, but she’s become a classical Western “brat” in the process. How many “I hate yous” and “I wished you’d died instead of Mom (in Polish and Vietnamese with English subtitles)” can one father endure?

The overall effect is one of overcast skies and overcast lives, carefully hidden pain and longing, with barely a hint of the life Long dreamed of and maybe had, or of the life he left behind to emigrate to Poland.

Not a lot happens here and the personal journeys that the characters make are the very definition of “baby steps.” But the milieu, the simmering food and tensions of the kitchen and the frosty stand-off between adult and child make this chamber piece from Poland pay off.

MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity

Cast: Thang Long Do, Lena Nguyen, Aleksandra Domanska

Credits: Scripted and directed by Mariko Bobrik. A BAM Kino Polska streaming release.

Running time: 1:24

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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