Set in Singapore, during the Great Asian Financial Crisis, Ilo Ilo, written and directed by Anthony Chen, tells the story of a relationship between a family of three: Teck (Tian Wen Chen), Hwee (Yann Yann Ye) and Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) and their Filipino maid, Teresa (striking and moving performance by Angeli Bayani) who has come to Singapore to earn money and to support her relatives back home in the Philippines. The entire family needs to get used to the presence of this stranger, Jiale’s mother in particular. Although the situation isn’t ideal, Teresa and Jia Le, an irritating 10 year old boy she looks after, form an incredibly strong bond. The unique connection continues to develop while igniting the mother’s jealousy.
Teresa, while away from home and her little son, tries to wok as much as possible not only as a maid but also as an illegally employed hairdresser. Jiale’s mom and father are struggling to make ends meet but they are determined to work hard for them to maintain a solid lifestyle. After a while, however, the boy’s dad loses his job and in secret, he shamefully takes on a security job, just to bring money into the house. With the entire family working intensively, will the financial crisis effect them? Will their family bond become stronger or will it weaken?
Ilo Ilo is Anthony Chen’s directorial debut. The director said, at this year’s London Film Festival, that the story was partly based on his childhood and inspired by the Pinay domestic helper whom Chen and his two younger brothers referred to as Aunty Terry. It was interesting to hear that after 16 years, since the director last saw her, Anthony managed to meet his nanny at the film premiere in Singapore. Both him and Teresa were finally reunited. The first thing she said to Anthony, after watching the film, was “You make me cry you make me laugh” and surely that’s how you’ll all feel after watching Ilo Ilo. It is a bittersweet story of everyday life. A story of struggle and survival.
The film was mostly shot indoors. It’d have been extremely hard and expensive to alter today’s Singapore into the 1990s. Ilo Ilo cost over £200,000 and I have to say it was pretty well spent considering the locations, great acting talent and equipment that was hired for the duration of shooting. I was pleasantly surprise when it came to the acting. Koh Jia’s portrayal of the boy was interesting and simply marvelous, engaging and natural. Yann Yann and Angeli’s performances were equally good if not great. Tian Wen Chen Teek’s character was well performed. A firm yet sensitive individual for whom the family was the priority. There was something amazing about those four protagonists who left me sobbing and speechless after the film screening.
Ilo Ilo received positive reviews all over the world and has won many film awards at various film festivals including the prestigious Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. This is what French filmmaker and Camera d’Or jury president Agnes Varda said in justifying the film’s award “We were touched by four characters, and the story of a family in Singapore. The director’s intelligence and sensitivity bring forth very important issues— childhood, immigration, class struggles, the economic crisis.” The film was also submitted to the 86th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Now we have to wait for Ilo Ilo to be shortlisted. Fingers crossed because it is a truly amazing piece of writing by Anthony Chen.
Written by Maggie Gogler