Big winner Ilo Ilo unlikely to score at home

SINGAPORE - Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo has snagged the Camera d'Or for best debut feature, a key prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the highest accolade that a Singapore film-maker has received in the history of local cinema.

Chen is every bit the local hero and deserves to be celebrated for scoring a bull's eye with his first feature film.

The proper movie-like coda to this Cinderella story would be a triumphant homecoming, topped off by thousands of Singaporeans clamouring for cinema tickets.

But this is real life, and the judgment of the market here will likely be a lot less ecstatic.

The simple reason is that film festival panels are drawn to dark, serious topics. The kind that mainstream audiences seeking entertainment on a Friday night avoid like the plague.

This festival jury bias for the esoteric is made worse by a distinct preference for work that points fingers at social problems in the film-makers' societies.

I have not seen the film yet, but judging from the trailer, the story appears to be about a Singaporean family who puts their Filipino domestic worker, Teresa, through hell.

The two-minute clip is a catalogue of insults to Teresa.

The employers (played by Chen Tianwen and Yeo Yann Yann) speak Mandarin to each other when they want to hide their intentions from Teresa. They take away her passport and make her sleep on a pull-out bed.

Teresa herself (played by Filipino actress Angela Bayani) protests against the bullying.

The synopsis on the film's website hints that it all ends well, though. "Teresa and Jiale, the young and troublesome boy she cares for, soon form a bond. Their unique connection continues to develop and soon she becomes an unspoken part of the family."

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