No stranger to the festival circuit, Anthony Chen‘s previous short film Ah Ma (2007) was nominated for Palme d’Or for shorts in Cannes and received special mention. His debut feature Ilo Ilo premiered in the festival to a 15-minute standing ovation and taking home Camera d’Or awards. An acknowledgment of excellence for first films.
Set in Singapore in the 1997, a woman from Philippines came to work for the Lim family. Her name is Teresa, (Angeli Bayani) (‘Please call me Terry”, she said), coming from Ilo Ilo province to be a housemaid, in searching for a better life. The Lim is a mid-class family of three: Teck (Tian Wen Chen) the father who never home despite loosing his sales job, Hwee Ling (Yann Yann Yeo) the heavily pregnant mother who work hard at her mundane job, and little Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) an petulant brat that nobody know how to control. As if the relationship between family member had not suffer enough strain before the arrival of Terry, they also had to endure with the especially with the Asian Financial Crisis that swept the region.
There’s something quaint about Ilo Ilo. A simple form of story telling through modest, down to earth, deceptively plain images courtesy of DoP Benoit Soler. A parallel to the ordinary homologous houses the character shared. Yet there’s a force in the strength of each characters’ own arch. Jiale bonding with his ‘auntie’ Terry after giving her hell through his pettishness and opt to spend time with her over her mother (‘you eat, it’s shark’s fin soup, supposed to be very expensive but i don’t like’, he said during a relative birthday celebration), was a reflection to the growing concern of parents who trust their children with their babysitters and maids. The maid did not relent under the bullying of Jiale as well, stood up with her own way but still maintain a certain level of apprehension towards the lady of the house. The mother whose effort to find a solution to their economic hurdle only to become a victim of a scam, shows a range of vulnerability behind her dour exterior. It’s so rich and yet remains so genuine.
The chinese character on the title is “ba ma bu zai jia” (爸妈不在家) which means ‘mom and dad are not home’ is inspired by the director’s own childhood experience. He had a maid whose name is also Terry and he parted with her when he was 12 years old. I felt the same connection to Jiale as well, i was growing up with a maid who were there when my parents were busy working. She’s been there right after i was born and i had to bid my farewell when i was 8 years old. I feel the same emotions that Jiale must’ve felt when he refused to let Terry go at the airport.
Ilo Ilo was one of the 5 films featured in world cinema section of Jakarta International Film Festival last november, it’s one of the two film i saw and probably my favorite among them. I adore the simplicity of it and how grounded, and honest it felt. This is the first Singaporean feature film i’ve seen. But i’ll keep my tab on Anthony Chen for now, i’m gonna look forward to whatever he dishes next.
ILO ILO (2013)
DIRECTOR Anthony Chen | PRODUCER Ang Hwee Sim, Anthony Chen, Wahyuni A. Hadi | WRITER Anthony Chen | CINEMATOGRAPHER Benoit Soler | EDITOR Hoping Chen, Joanne Cheong | STUDIO Singapore Film Comission, Nge Ann Polytechnic, Fisheye Pictures | DISTRIBUTOR Memento Films International, Golden Village Pictures | COUNTRY Singapore | RUNNING TIME 99 minutes | BUDGET S$ 700.000 | RELEASE May 19, 2013 (Cannes), August 29, 2013 (SG), November 23, 2013 (Jiffest)
STARRING Chen Tianwen, Yeo Yann Yann, Koh Jialer, Angeli Bayani