Monday, August 5, 2013

Iloilo-A Singapore Film Won Cannes Festival Award

Last May, Anthony Chen, a Singaporean filmmaker debuts his film Iloilo at Cannes Film Festival. The film was set in Singapore during the 1997 financial crisis. Iloilo (happens to be the province of my birth in the Philippines) is about the Lim family and their new house help Teresa; The film depicted how their already problematic family ties evolve; and how different cultures crash. The movie won the Camera d'Or first place award just recently.

Chen was asked how he came about for the film’s title. Here is his answers:

“When I was much younger, my mother hired a Filipino maid to look after the children. Teresa was with us for a long 8 years until I was 12 years old. We called her Auntie Terry. When she left to return home, it was hard to bear, but we got used to her absence and somehow lost contact. I believe the universal experience of children growing up with maids is one of having a “”surrogate”” mother, a friend and a confidant. The one thing that has stayed with me after all these years is the name of the place she was from, Iloilo, a province in the Philippines. That is how the title of the film came about.”

As it chronicles the filmmaker’s family life with their Auntie Terry, the film also depicts the life of a Filipino domestic helper overseas– their sacrifices, their hardships and the simple joys they get from the children they treat as their own. Though not a Filipino film and entirely shot in Singapore, Iloilo somewhat gives delight to the Filipinos especially those working overseas. More than the money they earn, nothing else makes them feel all the sacrifices are worth it but to feel appreciated and loved in a land strange to them. And this film makes them feel special and appreciated in so many ways.

Please take time to watch the trailer. It feels overwhelming to have a foreigner appreciate a Filipino worker even after a decade or so has passed. People like Teresa dignifies a job that is often deemed cheap and low. As this film takes over the International scene, we hope our OFWs and Domestic Workers could also receive the same respect as the foreigners would give to Auntie Terry. We wouldn’t know for sure, but this film might change how the world sees the Filipino domestic workers .Not only because this a film about a Filipino maid, but because the foreigners would be seeing it from a perspective of a non-Filipino.

Knowing she have touched hearts and transformed lives, and that a film was made about her, Auntie Terry could not be happier today wherever she is.

The film synopsis is as follows:

Set in the mid 1990s in Singapore, IloIlo chronicles the relationship between three young brothers (Weijie, 10; Weiming, 8; and Weicong, 6) and their maid from Iloilo, a province in the Philippines.

The three children of working parents Teck and Hwee still seem unable to take care of themselves or one another while the couple is at work and so the mother hires a maid.

The arrival of Teresa, the new Filipino maid, presents a new situation for the family as the brothers try to adapt to the presence of a stranger at home, a challenge particularly for the youngest Weicong who shares a room with her.

Having gotten used to Auntie Terry (as they call her), the often demanding and spoiled kids overwhelm their maid with errands and chores, relying on her to do the simplest of tasks. The dynamics of this relationship changes when Teresa asserts parental control to discipline the mischievous children. She has gone from stranger to servant and now surrogate mother and friend – one who dotes and cares, yet disciplines and educates. This leads to subtle jealousy from Hwee and an increased tension between the two maternal figures.

The unique bond between the foreign maid and the children continue to develop and soon she has become an unspoken part of the family, until financial circumstances resulting from the recession in 1997 mean the family can no longer afford her.

The children struggle to come to terms with the decision but eventually are forced to deal with Auntie Terry’s departure.

Personal Note:
I could identify with the bonding experience of Anthony Chen and his two brothers with their Yaya (Auntie Terry). I had a personal Yaya from birth and until I was 7 years old. The childhood memories of my Yaya I will never forget and will always remember it as long as I live.

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