Thursday, 20 March 2014


What joy we are capable of experiencing when we accept that fundamental buddhist notion that life is suffering. There is very much silent suffering in Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo, made stingingly clear in a distressing scene near the end, and very little joy, but it is an astute and truthful account of the suffering undergone by a Singaporean family in order that they might eventually be capable of experiencing joy. In providing a profile of each member of this three-person unit plus their newly-hired maid, Chen emphasises that it is not in ourselves that this joy will arise but in our relationships with others - these characters discover it only when they discover how to understand each other, and indeed each other's suffering. The hardships involved here are not as profound as those faced by many billions of others across the globe, but they need not be - the indirect implication is that, while economic woe can put a significant strain on one's mental state, wealth and comfort do not equate to happiness. No matter how financially rich, everyone has troubles of some kind; no matter how financially poor, everyone is capable of experiencing joy. Chen's story is simple but not simplistic, and his directorial style matched perfectly to it. He intentionally pulls off no grand feat of filmmaking here, instead tailoring the requirements of his film to the modesty of his means as a debut director working outside of a major studio system. Familial dramas rarely attract major financing, and rarely require much flair. But if he is deliberately unadventurous, he is neither lazy nor complacent, and creates an excellent sense of place and time and some memorable images with his cinematographer Benoit Soler.