Thursday, 5 September 2013

ILO ILO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - In childhood, solace is fleeting and that which soothes, aches in the face of losing it. Stunning feature length debut from young director from Singapore.

Ilo Ilo (2013) ****
Dir. Anthony Chen
Starring: Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Kida can really be horrid little things. Ten-year-old Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) is no exception to the rule.

It's 1997 and Asia's economy is crumbling. Jiale's Mom and Dad are struggling to make ends meet as it is, but they're determined to do so at a level that will maintain a solid lifestyle - not only for themselves and their son, but in anticipation of the new child growing in Mom's belly. Both parents are working full time and they hire Terry (Angeli Bayani, in a performance of staggering power and sensitivity), a nanny from the Philippines to help out.

Jiale is prone to acting out his brattier instincts at the best of times, but with a new nanny in the home, the floodgates open and he becomes a holy terror - most of all to Terry. That said, one of the extraordinary aspects of first time feature director Anthony Chen's direction is the delicate and subtle manner in which he builds the myriad of "small" things in a child's life that can seem so huge and insurmountable.

We experience and discover all of this through Chen's observant lens and narratively, we seamlessly, effortlessly shift our point of view between Jiale and Terry - allowing for maximum dramatic impact.

The relationship of genuine love and friendship between nanny and child shifts gradually into the deeply felt, but also confusing emotions which begin to develop as the lines between care worker and surrogate parent begin to blur – especially given the mounting pressures Jiale’s parents must deal with. Jiale can tell something is not right, but as a child he can’t possibly understand why he feels distance between himself and his parents and an ever-intensifying bond with Terry.

It doesn’t help that his parents are trying to mask these pressures. Jiale’s father loses his job and in secret, he shamefully takes on whatever he can to bring money into the home, while his mother continues in the employ of a company that treats its employees – especially female secretaries – like slaves and yet she too tries to keep her troubles to herself.

The physical and psychological hardships his parents experience affects Jiale – at first in the adversarial stance he takes against Terry, but eventually as his dependence and love upon her grows. Terry herself seems soulful almost beyond words, but she too has a breaking point with Jiale’s nasty behaviour and she needs to make it very clear to the child that she’s not going to take it.

Ilo Ilo is one of the best films about childhood I've seen in quite some time. It's a movie that feels like it comes straight from the heart and its storytelling techniques are so simple and pure that one feels you're in the hands of a master filmmaker. The emotions are never mawkish or contrived in obvious ways, but there are several big set pieces that alternate between rich, full bodied human comedy and deeply moving, gorgeously observed and downright heartbreaking moments designed to wrench tears from you. These moments are honest, however, and they feel like the stuff of life.

Sometimes the pain of childhood is the realization of love when you least expect it and in ways you could never have imagined and sometimes events conspire to snatch away newly discovered joy and warm memories offer only fleeting solace - it's like that which soothes you aches and gnaws at your very being in the face of losing it.

"Ilo Ilo" is enjoying its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013 (TIFF #13). For tickets, visit the TIFF website HERE. The film is distributed by Film Movement.