City Paper is not for tourists
A slow-moving family drama set in Singapore during the Asian financial crisis that began in 1997, Ilo Ilo captures, maybe a bit too evocatively, the grinding banality of trying to hold onto the trappings of a middle-class life as things go bad. The film won the Camera d’Or prize at the 2013 Cannes film festival, awarded to the best feature by a first-time director; Anthony Chen, who also wrote it, loosely based it on his own experience being raised by a Filipina maid growing up in Singapore. It follows a family intimately, in a style that looks and feels like a documentary, and it treats its characters with sympathy, but not pity. There’s Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), a harmlessly delinquent 10-year-old; Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), his very pregnant mother, who works at a shipping firm that’s laying people off as the crisis deepens; and Teck (Chen Tian Wen), his hapless father, who loses their savings in the stock market, then loses his sales job. Before the financial crisis, they hire Terry (Angeli Bayani), a maid from the Philippines whom they first dislike but gradually come to depend on. The movie dashes most hopes for a better life that any of them have, but does it quietly and tenderly. Watching the family inch its way through the turmoil doesn’t make for exciting viewing, exactly, but it’s a well-acted, well-made film all the same.