Last week I went to watch Ilo Ilo, a Singaporean film directed by Anthony Chen which won the Camera D’Or award at Cannes Film Festival 2013. Released in cinemas in September this year, much has been written and raved about the movie, the first win for such a tiny nation on the international stage.
I personally loved the film, which has a very nostalgic tinge to its look and feel throughout. Though I wished for more wide angle shots (as many scenes were taken at close range), the angles were creatively framed and directed the viewers’ attention to many special individual moments.
Nostalgia overlays the entire show, and many of us who grew up in the 90s would resonate with the Tamagotchi, Sony Walkman and plastic book wrappers found in stationery shops. Director Anthony Chen is only two years older than myself (b.1984), and some of the little objects shown in the film are so unique to our generation.
Eating chicken rice from a styrofoam box, scrubbing your uniform on the bathroom floor, hugging the much loved bolster (so happy to see it on screen!), folding toilet paper into a neat rectangle, giving your old clothes to your maid – I’m sure many a Singaporean (and even Malaysians) abroad will be dreaming of home when they watch this.
Some memorable scenes that are particularly Singaporean include shots of a late night MRT crisscrossing a HDB estate, bamboo clothes hangers that can barely take the weight of damp bedsheets, noisy Chinese funerals at the void deck and Filipina maids carrying school bags.
I also love the deeper themes that the story deals with, which are so real yet under-discussed except in bravely artistic expressions such as these; the jealousy between a mother and a maid, the pressure of maintaining ‘face’ at family dinners, the semi-erotic curiosity of a child, the unspoken yet known matters between husband and wife.
I love Ilo Ilo because there are not too many films that show the complexity of our modern lives in Singapore and Malaysia; in all the fullness of our desires, hopes, dreams, decisions, failures, pretenses and imperfections. The film is so ordinary yet so special, because it is such a true reflection of our memories and our experiences.