Ilo Ilo

(Ba ma bu zai jia)
(Singapore, 2013, 96 mins, DCP)
CAST Angeli Bayani, Yeo Yann Yann, Chen Tianwen, Koh Jia Ler
PRODS Ang Hwee Sim, Anthony Chen, Wahyuni A. Hadi
SCR Anthony Chen
CAM Benoît Soler
EDS Chen Hoping, Joanne Cheong
PROD DES Michael Wee
PROD CO Fisheye Pictures
Classification: PG - Violence;coarse language


Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo is a richly humane, consistently absorbing independent film from Singapore. Winner of the prestigious Camera d’Or prize for best first film at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, it glows with warmth, humour, and compassion.

Lim Jiale is a very naughty ten-year-old in 1990s Singapore. He’s quite intelligent, though given to fits of violent temper and alarmingly antisocial behaviour. His parents are typically struggling middle-class Chinese-speaking Singaporeans who seem on the verge of slipping out of their middle-class status. Jiale’s father, sweet but rather weak and ineffectual, loses his sales job, and lacks the courage to tell his family. Jiale’s mother, Leng, is pregnant: she’s relatively tough and capable, though the shipping company she works for is also downsizing. To help handle Jiale, the Lims hire a Filipina maid, Terry (Angeli Bayani, extraordinary). Terry is savvy, incredibly patient, and has an underlying gentleness and steeliness that helps her bond with Jiale. With Jenny’s arrival, family dynamics begin to quietly shift, as inner strengths and weaknesses reveal themselves.

Chen manages to weave subtle observations about economic downsizing, class dynamics and the exploitation of foreign labour into this compelling and very emotionally involving family story. But he does it with a graceful hand. The film never preaches: it offers fully rounded, often surprising characters, eliciting our wonder and understanding.

Shelly Kraicer

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