S’pore film to debut at Cannes Film Festival

Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) and Teresa (Angeli Bayani) in "Ilo Ilo" (Screengrab from Fisheye Pictures video)
Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) and Teresa (Angeli Bayani) in "Ilo Ilo" (Screengrab from Fisheye Pictures video)

Singaporean Anthony Chen’s first feature film will make its debut at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival next month.

"Ilo Ilo", which tells the story of a young boy and his maid, will make its world premiere in the lauded Director’s Fortnight section.

Chen joins other Singapore filmmakers Ray Pang and Christina Choo who will have their works shown at the festival as well.

The film stars actress Yeo Yann Yann, television veteran Chen Tian Wen and Filipino actress Angeli Bayani. The latter is known for her roles in auteur Lav Diaz’s films.

29-year-old Chen was previously nominated for the Palme d’Or for Short Film in 2006 and scored a first for a Singaporean filmmaker after being awarded a Special Mention for short film “Ah Ma”.

“Ilo Ilo is inspired by my childhood – through vignettes and moments of the people close to me. I am grateful that for my first feature, I have the opportunity to make a film that begins at home,” Chen said in a statement.

Chen said that his experience being raised by a Filipino maid shaped his understanding of the film he created.

“I believe the universal experience of children growing up with maids is one of having a “surrogate” mother, a friend and confidant. An entire generation of children has grown up in the hands of maids,” said Chen.

Set in the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Ilo Ilo chronicles the relationship between the Lim family and their new maid, Teresa, who threatens to worsen already-strained family ties. Things change when Jiale, the youngest and troublesome son in the family, forms a unique bond with Teresa and she begins to integrate into the family’s life.

Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler in "Ilo Ilo" (Fisheye Pictures photo by han)
Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler in "Ilo Ilo" (Fisheye Pictures photo by han)

Dichotomy between commercial and arthouse films?

In a phone interview with Yahoo! Singapore, Chen expressed his jubilation at his film being selected for the festival. He said part of the challenge in creating the film, which was about three years in the making, was choosing then 02-year-old Koh Jia Ler to play Jiale. Jia Ler is a newcomer with no acting background.

“He’s just really natural. I wanted everything to be unpretentious, naturalistic and as believable as possible. He captured the essence of the kid in the film – precocious but with a lot of emotion hidden inside,” explained Anthony.

Ilo Ilo was made with the support of the Singapore Film Commission and Ngee Ann Polytechnic. When asked about the state of made-in-Singapore films, Chen was optimistic about the new wave of filmmakers and his observations on where support is coming from.

“My sense is that the next three to five years will be very interesting. There is a new wave of intelligent, perceptive, passionate filmmakers who have stories to tell and are eloquent -- “Singapore films are not just about comedy and horror,”” explains Chen.

“In recent years, you hear a lot in Singapore of people who want to invest in films. There is a lot of money being thrown into this from private investors and the nouveau riche. Ultimately, the film business should be one where you have to love films. I’m not interested in the dichotomy between commercial and arthouse films. Whether you’re a filmmaker or investor, everyone should be here with the best of intentions to make a good piece of work.”

In his statement, Chen hopes that his film will be able to highlight issues with regards to how children are increasingly being raised by maids as more families have both parents working full-time.

“What is intriguing and never brought to light are the emotional inter-relations created, nurtured, cherished and yet brutally taken away when circumstances change,” said Chen, who is looking forward to showing his film to the Singapore audience later this year.

The Director’s Fortnight event has launched the first films of film luminaries such as Martin Scorsese, Sofia Coppola and Werner Herzog. A Camera d’Or award, in recognition of young filmmakers, will be awarded to the top pick from the event.

Another short film directed by former Lasalle student Jow Zhi Wei will also be shown at the festival’s Cinefondation Selection, which highlights works by students. Jow’s film “After the Winter” is one of 18 short films selected among 1,550 submissions from 277 schools worldwide. Jow is currently studying at French school Le Fresnoy.

Watch the trailer for "Ilo Ilo" below: