The movie is about a young girl, Mùi, who becomes a servant for a family that was once wealthy but is sinking into genteel poverty due to the husband’s infidelities. Their only income is from the wife’s small business. The husband’s widowed mother, an invalid who seldom leaves her upstairs room, blames her daughter-in-law, telling her, “You have a man, but you don’t know how to keep him happy.” The eldest son prefers his friend’s company, and the youngest, who idolizes his father, is wilful, disruptive and cruel. Mùi is notably peaceful and curious about the world.

When the husband leaves for his fourth and final time, he steals his wife’s meagre savings and jewelry. Soon after, the grandmother collapses, and a doctor is summoned. As he treats her with acupuncture, musicians play cheerful music outside the room. When she dies, the wife sells an heirloom vase and other valuables to pay for her medical and funeral expenses.

Ten years later, the family has fallen on hard times. Two sons have left, and the wife has taken the grandmother’s place upstairs, tragic and rarely seen. On the family shrine, the grandmother’s and husband’s photos have joined those of other departed relatives. Having lost a young daughter during one of her husband’s earlier absences, the wife cares for Mùi like one of her own, but can no longer afford to keep her. She gives her a silk dress and some gold jewelry, and arranges for her to become a servant for the older son’s friend, who is now a concert pianist. He is engaged to be married but prefers playing the piano to spending time with his frivolous fiancée.

One night, as the fiancée chatters on, his piano playing becomes more intense as he strives to ignore her. She leaves, but watches through the window, and sees that when Mùi enters the room, his playing becomes peaceful. Later that night, he goes to Mùi’s quarters and closes the door behind him. When the fiancée learns of this, she puts his ring on a table and smashes some of his belongings. When he returns, he calmly pockets the ring. He starts teaching Mùi to read and write. In the final scene, a pregnant Mùi is reading poetry to him.

Although set in Vietnam, the film was shot entirely on a soundstage in Boulogne, France.

The film won the Caméra d’Or prize at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, a César Award for Best Debut at the French annual film award ceremony, and was nominated for the 1993 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

According to Wikipedia.