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08 December 2013

Ilo Ilo (Review): "Home is not a Place but a Feeling of Being Loved"

Anthony Chen’s “Ilo Ilo” is Singapore’s entry to the 2014 Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.  Fortunately, this small gem of a film is finally being shown in the Philippines but only in selected theaters.  It is a bit of an effort looking for cinemas that exhibit this film, but considering the ease of watching terrible Filipino-produced films like “Where Love Has Gone” and “Call Center Girl,” the effort is worth it.

Chen’s characters are real people with real problems. Instead of delving into negative or positive stereotypes, Chen made his characters flesh and blood. His take on the lives of Filipino domestic helpers in Singapore is admirable. He did not patronize them by making them look squeaky-clean.  He presented the good and the bad sides of Filipinos abroad as some help and others exploit their fellow Filipinos.  In a nutshell, Chen filmed the real. 

 In a perfect world, the highest 
paid and most popular "Angel" 
should be Angeli Bayani and 
not the girl who is paid tons 
of money to prove she has 
no dandruff.
Angeli Bayani (playing Teresa) 
is the New "It" Girl of Philippine
Independent Cinema

Images taken from "Ilo Ilo"
Facebook page. 
At the same time, he also gave us a refreshing look at a Singaporean family for whom many Filipino domestic helpers work.  The Lim Family is very different from the image of an abusive Singaporean family in Joel Lamangan’s “The Flor Contemplacion Story.” In Chen’s film, the Lims are real people.  They have the same concerns and aspirations as Filipinos have.  They make mistakes; they are compassionate and insecure as we are.  In a way, “Ilo Ilo” may help bridge the gap between Filipinos and Singaporeans, and help shatter prejudices on both sides of the fence.

“Ilo Ilo” also offers the world a simple but valuable lesson about Filipinos, and the film does this without being preachy. The lesson is:

“Some Filipinos may go abroad to work as maids, but they are not slaves and they will not be bullied. In the end, we may leave our family and country to work overseas, but we always take our hearts with us, and share them with the rest of the world. We may be lacking in material wealth, but we will never sell our souls.”

Actually, most of us will not but I cannot vouch for the entire Philippine government.

“Ilo Ilo” is a heartwarming little film with a big heart. The film will easily charm moviegoers regardless of nationality, religion and economic status because the primary focus of the film is the family. Everyone cares for his family.  We face small defeats and triumphs within the confines of our home. Whatever happens, home is home. Perhaps that is the reason why Chen entitled his movie “Ilo Ilo.”  Iloilo may not pertain to a real place but a feeling of being loved, a home. Iloilo is not just in the Philippines, but it can also be in Singapore or any place where a child is loved, and family members care for one another.

I love the song in the end. It encapsulates the Filipino soul.


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