“Launching his feature debut in Cannes, where his short film Ah Ma earned a special mention in 2007, the 29-year-old Singapore director Anthony Chen paints a bittersweet vignette of family life in Ilo Ilo,” begins Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter.
“Chen’s tale hinges on Filipina maid Teresa (Angeli Bayani) who works in a dysfunctional home in Singapore during the 1997 economic crisis that deeply affected all of East Asia,” writes Robert Koehler in a dispatch to Film Comment. “[A]s Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) works long hours, Teck (Chen Tian Wen) tries to conceal his shame over being laid off from his longtime office job and then losing the family’s much-needed nest egg in ill-considered stock trades. Teresa becomes more of a mother to their flagrantly unruly young son, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler, in an amazing performance).” At one point, “Jiale’s noisy gaming device becomes too much for Teck, and as he suddenly grabs it out of his boy’s hands and tosses it out his driver’s side car window, it’s both one of Ilo Ilo’s funniest moments and a perfect example of character revelation through action—the very beating heart and soul of cinematic storytelling.”
“Ilo Ilo is subdued,” writes Tim Grierson in Screen, “but its emotional wallop sneaks up on you—just like Jiale’s feelings for this Filipino woman he assumed he hated.”
Marie-Pierre Duhamel in the Notebook: “In a time when ‘vintage’ has affected so many productions, making most look like trendy antique shops on screen, Anthony Chen’s reconstruction of the late 90s, thanks to his sense of colors, locations and faces, feels like a heartfelt, lived-through vision. Just as memory works: not as a catalog of objects but as a mix of images, sounds, words and details. Not easy to achieve in a place like Singapore where changes are lightning quick.”
Update, 5/26: And the film’s won the Camera d’Or.
Updates, 5/31: “Brimming with love, humor and heartbreak,” finds Maggie Lee in Variety. “Chen is remarkably astute in his depiction of the class and racial tensions within such a household, his accessible style enabling the characters’ underlying decency and warmth to emerge unforced…. French lenser Benoit Soler’s deceptively plain images of homogenous Housing Development Board flats and faceless neighborhoods accentuate the ordinariness of the characters’ lives and the universality of their plight.”
At Indiewire, Ben Travers reports that Film Movement has secured US distribution.
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