Warm Hello for Ilo Ilo

Warm Hello for Ilo Ilo
The film Ilo Ilo.
SINGAPORE - After wowing the finicky audiences at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in May, local movie Ilo Ilo has to win over the viewers in the place that birthed its story.

Its biggest hurdle is two words: niche appeal. Specifically, the film, which won the Camera d'Or in Cannes for Best Debut Feature and is a quiet drama about a Singapore family's relationship with a Filipino maid, has to overcome the perception that it is a talky arthouse movie.

There are no action sequences or overwrought emotional scenes that are a staple in Hollywood blockbusters and Channel 8 heartland dramas.

The film's poster seems to be a pre-emptive strike at such possible prejudice against what might be seen as an arthouse movie: Its cartoonish design screams low-brow comedy, rather than what it really is.

At a press conference here last Friday to launch the movie, the cast, too, met the challenge head-on.

When he first heard the pitch, veteran television actor Chen Tianwen, 50, recalls that director Anthony Chen had very specific ideas for the film, including the challenging use of hand-held cameras.

The star who made his name acting in numerous Channel 8 melodramas wondered: "Can this film sell? It's not a commercial flick and has a single camera following the characters almost like a documentary."

Still, he trusted in the director's vision and passion and signed on for the role of the patriarch.

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