2013 has been a great year for Philippine movies. Direk Erik Matti’s OTJ garnered overwhelming response from viewers and critics, with a Hollywood adaptation already in the works. UK-produced Metro Manila starring Jake Macapagal and FHM indie babe Althea Vega bowed to international applause. Foreign filmmakers have been showing an interest in our country and its culture, and hopes are high that Cinemalaya’s big winner Transit is selected for the Oscars Best Foreign Film category.
Another example of that is Iloilo, directed by Singaporean director Anthony Chen and starring local talent Angeli Bayani. The film takes yet another slice of Filipino culture to produce a funny tale of isolation, heartbreak, and family amidst the Asian financial crisis in the late ’90s--a tale based on the life of the director.
Terry (Bayani) is an OFW in Singapore taken in by a struggling family that needs a maid to take care of Jiale, their naughty little boy. Upon arrival, the Illonga faces animosity from the kid, and almost gets in trouble when he frames her for theft. Slowly and surely, Terry wins over Jiale’s affection. As their bond deepens, their closeness sparks jealousy in Jiale’s pregnant working mother. Jealousy though is merely another thorn as the family’s financial woes start piling up--which also put the Illonga’s job in jeopardy.
At least the family can still afford KFC!
Terry isn’t the main focus of the plot, but rather serves as a device that exposes the familial imperfections of those around: the burdened father, the mother on the brink of a nervous breakdown, the naïve adolescent stumbling through the economic dysfunction. The maid becomes a mirror for the family members, in the end showing that despite differences--be it culture, class, age, race, and religion--loneliness and happiness depend on how you live your life.
Happiness: impromptu basaan sessions!
The father, the mother, and little Jiale all deliver exceptional, honest performances. You can feel the worry of the father with each cigarette drag he hides from his wife. Defeat is written in the curled up brow of the mother as she wobbles through her job--expecting and rejecting phone calls about her son’s disciplinary cases at school. False hopes are pasted in Jiale’s secret notebook, filled from end to end with lottery clippings from newspapers. Emotions brim from Terry’s eyes, as she dances around all these personalities, trying hard to carve out her own place in a land far from her own home.
Melodrama might be too much for those used to the high-octane, the explosive, the glittery reality presented by movies. But when done right, melodrama is capable of targeting the purest of human emotions. Iloilo is melodrama done right, nurtured by a simple narrative about a kid’s tempered connection with a stranger of a woman that cared for him. It's a narrative that the Cannes Film Festival felt strongly about as they gave the film the Camera d'Or award--and it's something that's easy to relate to because everyone has a childhood to recall, and a family that isn’t perfect.
Once all is resolved, what the movie leaves you with is that life's a matter of surviving these growing pains and accepting them for what they are. Now, call up your old yaya and give her a hug! She deserves it.
Iloilo premieres on December 4, Wednesday, in cinemas nationwide.
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