The middle classes are under fire all over the world, and in Anthony Chen’s drama it is the all-seeing eyes of a newly recruited maid that bear witness to a growing crisis. The Lim family hires Teresa (Angeli Bayani) to assist pregnant mum Leng (Yeo Yann Yann) with handling her baby bump and, more pertinently, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), her scamp of a son. Teresa soon becomes indispensible, not least to Jiale, to whom she becomes pal, confidant and surrogate mother.
Meanwhile the marriage between Leng and husband Teck (Chen Tianwen), who has recently been made redundant, continues to erode. Chen presents a series of universal themes in this authentic portrait of a family on the brink. The kid’s behaviour is a manifestation of his parents’ stress and non-communication. Money – or lack of it – is the root of all their woes.
Ilo Ilo is set in Singapore during the financial crash that happened in the 1990s, but it could as well be Britain in the second decade of the 21st century. It’s the modern world in microcosm and it is starkly real. The resonance is truly unsettling.