Moviegoers looking for respite from the latest wave of blockbusters should check out Ilo Ilo, a modest film from Singapore which won the 2013 Camera d’Or (for first-time feature filmmakers) at Cannes. Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) and Teck (Chen Tian Wen) are the mother and father of a bratty ten-year-old boy, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler). Both parents work, and Jiale’s antics are disruptive enough that they decide to hire a Filipino maid/nanny to help manage the household. When Teresa (Angeli Bayani) arrives, Hwee Leng immediately takes possession of her passport; for lodging, Teresa will sleep on a mat in Jiale’s room. The brief time Teresa spends with this middle-class Singapore family, and the bonds she forms with them, make up the film.
This occurs in 1997, as the Asian financial crisis hits Singapore. Money worries loom, and each of the four main characters comes up with a plan to deal with the crisis. The viewer may choose to contrast these plans, but their differences are not thrown into relief in any sort of heavy-handed manner. Overall, this movie makes a virtue of subtlety, holding back one or two steps from melodrama. Events move in the expected direction: Teresa learns how to get by in a foreign land; Jiale matures a little and grows fond of his nanny; Hwee Leng becomes a little less peremptory with the hired help. When Teresa and the family part company at the end, the tug on the moviegoer’s heart is fully earned.
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Critics have generally praised Klown, a Danish comedy about two transgressive men and a boy on a misbegotten canoeing and camping trip. Frank (Frank Hvam) is an idiot; his stunts that hurt and embarrass others are moronic, but they contain no malice. Casper (Casper Christensen) is just a bad person. In the end Frank’s victims forgive him because he is a wuvvable foo, and Casper isn’t tarred and feathered because he is a friend of Frank. As I say, many critics went for this, and if you are less grumpy and uptight than yours truly, you may enjoy this painful film as well.