Friday, January 2, 2015

爸妈不在家 (Ilo Ilo) (2013)

Director: Anthony Chen
Writer:    Anthony Chen
Cast:       Yann Yann Yeo, Tian Wen Chen, Angeli Bayani
Language: Mandarin

The friendship between the maid Teresa and young boy Jiale ignite the mother's jealousy, while the Asian financial crisis of the late 90s hit the region including Singapore where the film is set in.

The story arc is kind of predictable with the extremely difficult boy gradually becoming friends with the new maid only leading to heartbreak later. Despite that, it is a wonderful film to watch with its subtle depiction of the dynamics of relationship between the family and the maid. The film is not just focusing on the maid-child aspect of the relationship but also shows the drudgery of employed middle class existence in the Asiatic parts of the world. I wouldn't call them bourgeoisie since I believe that it should be reserved for the middle class in Western parts of the World which can be fundamentally different from the Asian region because of the increased focus on living for the children aspect in the latter region. This makes their existence even more mundane from my perspective. The maid in question in the film is from Philippines and she speaks very good English, because of the colonial past of her country under USA. Seems maids from Philipines are quite common in many countries including the Gulf because of this reason. In India, we are used to having domestic help from local people and they are increasingly being used to look after older people. In Kerala because of labor shortage people from other states are being hired and they can be considered as good as being a foreigner to the place. There is an airport scene at the end of the film where they show flight listings which included one to Cochin and that made me smile. Those are random things that amuses you when watching foreign films- I remember spotting Bajaj Pulsars in an Iranian film. 

Coming back to the film, the performances from all concerned are excellent. The treatment of maid by the household is very respectable compared to Indian standards, where even being a foreign diplomat doesn't prevent you from behaving like an asshole to these people. I love the fact that the director says a lot more through gestures than words. It reminded me of Taiwanese film 'Yi Yi', which told the tale of a much bigger family while this one dealt with a nuclear one. They have used a sepia color tone throughout the film which was a big change from the vibrant colors that I am used to while watching films form these parts of the World (Think Wong Kar Wai). That said, this is the first film from Singapore that I have seen. The public corporal punishment scene from the film was shocking as I didn't expect that to be present in developed countries. No surprise that the school principal was of Indian origin.

Film won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes and Anthony Chen won the best director award at the Mumbai film festival. I haven't seen any of the films from 'Domestic Help' genre that have came out lately in Hollywood because I have no interest in watching them basically.

Rating: 4.5/5