Friday, March 28, 2014

Ilo Ilo

I've gotten a bit better about not missing programs at the various local theaters as I build "Next Week in Tickets" every week, so I was able to keep the annual Belmont World Film program in mind as it approached. It's an interesting program which does a fairly impressive job of getting movies that almost certainly would not have much other visibility in America at all up on the big screen, and supports them with guests to put what we see into context.

The trouble, at least from my perspective, is that it's out in Belmont, which means a non-minor trip for me, especially since I'm arriving from Burlington. I think the only bus route that goes by the place is the 73, which can be somewhat erratic in scheduling. The good news, though, is that the Belmont Studio Cinema is not a bad destination. It's run by the same guys as the West Newton Cinema, and it's actually kind of intriguing how they seem very willing to try different things, both in different locations and as something doesn't seem to be working. For instance, the last time I saw something at the Studio, they had computers set up along one wall of the lobby, doing a "cyber-cafe" sort of environment. Those are gone now (for the better - it's already a pretty cramped space), but they have opened the "Cafe Burrito" next door, with the theater's website making it clear that bringing one's order in from there is quite okay. They have even removed some seats from the single, fairly large auditorium to install tables; they're dotted around the room rather than concentrated in a particular area, which is kind of a neat choice.

I do kind of wonder, since there's no connecting door between the cinema and cafe, what the reaction would be if someone brought a pizza from the restaurant on the other side of the building in. On the other hand, that would be pretty unwieldy unless you sat at one of the table seats, whereas the burrito, I found, will fit nicely in a cupholder.

The movie itself was pretty good, and I found I liked it and saw more upon further reflection, and that tempers some of my dissatisfaction with the post-film discussion a bit. The guest was an immigration reporter who immediately started speaking about certain types of exploitation that weren't immediately evident in the movie, although they were important with a bit of time to mull it over. In general, it didn't feel as though she had seen the movie or boned up on the specifics of this in regards to Singapore to prepare beforehand. That was fine, in that a lot of people in the audience were less interested in discussing the movie as opposed to the issue anyway. Even by that standard, though, it was a lot of people with fairly vague opinions or memories of newspaper articles they read months ago.

I ducked out before the discussion was finished, which I almost never do, but the next bus would have been something like a half-hour later. There's certainly a good chance I'll be back some other time for this series or just to see another movie at the Studio sometime soon - big, single-screen theaters are a rarity that deserve support, and the ready availability of actual meal-type food at a reasonable price is certainly a draw when the movie is going to be your entire night out.

Ilo Ilo

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2014 in the Studio Cinema (Belmont World Film, digital)

You can finish Ilo Ilo and come away feeling like you've seen something more uplifting than it really is, and it would not shock me if a fair amount of people identified with the parents of a problem child, especially in the film's native land of Singapore. The tone of this film is carefully managed, enough so that it does not necessarily feel like it is condemning the exploitation of foreign workers depicted - at least, not until the pieces have been separated, added up, and put back together.

The kid on question is Jiale (Koh Jia Ler); he's constantly in trouble at his school and not much less trouble at home. Mother Hwee Lang (Yann Yann Yep) and father Teck (Tian Wen Chen) are stretched thin as it is, so they do what a number of families in a similar position do and hire a servant. A placement agency send them Teresa (Angeli Bayani), who had left her own child with family back in the Philippines to take this job, and while Jiale initially treats her even worse than his parents, a bond eventually forms that Hwee Lang finds threatening.

There's a scene a bit past the midpoint of the film that initially comes off as just sort of darkly funny: Jiale has been given a clutch of cute baby chicks to raise as pets for his birthday, and as he runs out to the balcony to play with them, the camera swings back to the living room to remind the audience that the family was having fried chicken for dinner. It doesn't quite become the movie's central metaphor, but the meaning isn't hard to extract as things play out a bit more; Teresa may feel like part of the family, but given that Hwee Lang is holding onto her passport "for safekeeping", she is in a bit of a cage as well - and a housemaid can be a luxury in the same way as a pet chicken.

Full review at EFC

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