2013, 96 minutes
Review by Joshua Handler
Special thanks to Film Movement for sending me this film to view for this series.
It is a real shame that Ilo Ilo, the Singaporean submission to the Oscars, wasn’t shortlisted for the award because of the 15 submitted or shortlisted films I’ve seen thus far, it is one of the best. Winner of the prestigious Camera d’Or (Best First Feature) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival (the award was given to Beasts of the Southern Wild in 2012), Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo is a complex and rich movie about the relationship between a Filipino maid, Terry (Angeli Bayani), and the boy, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), that she cares for. The film is set in Singapore during the 1990s economic recession.
With Ilo Ilo, 29-year-old writer/director Anthony Chen shows remarkable talent and promise. His actors, top to bottom, are excellent and the storytelling skill he demonstrates shows the maturity of a filmmaker far beyond his years. Ilo Ilo focuses on Terry and Jiale’s relationship, but also explores that of Jiale’s parents who are hit hard by the economic recession.
What’s so refreshing and involving about Ilo Ilo is its lack of sentimentality and its characters. Chen depicts each character as one way at the beginning, but as the film progresses, it is revealed why each character is the way they are. For example, Jiale is a bratty, seemingly malicious young child, but we find out why as his character is developed. There are many places in which the film could have veered into cheap sentimentality, but Chen is smart enough to ground it in realism and allow the situations to speak for themselves. The film, even without the sentimentality, is emotionally satisfying.
As Terry, Angeli Bayani shines. Her vibrant presence and chemistry with Koh Jia Ler, made me care, something crucial to my movie-going (and hopefully everybody else’s movie-going) experience. As Jiale, Koh Jia Ler is incredible, making me care for an annoying child. He shows a wide range of emotions and was a great find. As Jiale’s parents, the Lims, Tia Wen Chen and Yann Yann Yeo are also very strong. In short, Ilo Ilo is perfectly cast.
Overall, I loved Ilo Ilo; there’s no other way for me to put it. It is a well-scripted, acted, and directed film that was moving and very enjoyable with a poignant conclusion -t one that would have never come out of Hollywood. That is the beauty of many of these non-U.S. productions – they’re frequently honest and the directors just make the films they want. They are allowed to put their unique, surprising visions onto the big screen without much interference. A film like Ilo Ilo is a little gem. It is a film that, if it reaches a wide enough audience, will be well-loved. It has already been a success overseas, but unfortunately will likely not reach the wide audience that it deserves simply because it is a foreign film. Ilo Ilo is a really special film and one that I won’t soon forget.
Film Movement will be releasing Ilo Ilo in the spring.