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Singapore film about Filipina maid wins Camera d’Or at Cannes

A scene from Anthony Chen's 'Ilo Ilo'. Angeli Bayani is third from left, standing.

“Ilo Ilo”, the feature film debut of Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, starring Filipina independent film actress Angeli Bayani, won the Camera d’Or award at the 66th Cannes International Film Festival on Monday.

The award is the first ever award won by a Singaporean film at the festival.

According to the film’s plot synopsis posted on its Facebook page, “Ilo Ilo” is set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and chronicles the relationship between the Lims, a Chinese-Singaporean family, and their newly arrived Filipina maid Teresa, who hails from the province of Iloilo. After the young and troublesome son, Jiale forms a unique bond with Teresa, she soon becomes an unspoken part of the family.

“We were touched by four characters, and the story of a family in Singapore. The director’s intelligence and sensitivity bring forth very important issues — childhood, immigration, class struggles, the economic crisis,” French filmmaker and Camera d’Or jury president Agnes Varda said in justifying the film’s award.

Varda and actress Zhang Ziyi presented the award to director Anthony Chen at ceremonies held at the Grand Théâtre Lumière in Cannes, France.
Upon the announcement of the award, the makers of the film posted the following status on its Facebook page:

“For us, just to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival, to be mentioned alongside the most talented and passionate filmmakers in the world, and to be a part of this magnificent celebration of film, was already a real triumph in itself. But to actually win the Camera d’Or is truly beyond anything we could have ever imagined.

“What an amazing journey this has been, and we are so, so thankful that all of you have been with us from the very beginning. Congratulations to Anthony, the cast and crew and to everyone involved in the film!! Last but not least, congratulations to all of you for supporting us throughout this entire experience.”

Singaporean director Anthony Chen receives his Camera d'Or award at the 66th Cannes International Film Festival on Monday. (Reuters)

Created in 1978, the Camera d’Or or Golden Camera prize is given to the best first feature film presented in the Official Selection, Directors’ Fortnight or International Critics’ Week. “Ilo Ilo” was an entry in the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight section.

This is not the first time that a Filipino actress has starred in a foreign production that won a major prize in Cannes.

In 2009, Park Chan-Wook’s horror film “Thirst”, which featured Mercedes Cabral as the lone Filipina in its cast, won that year’s Jury Prize, considered as the third most prestigious prize at the film festival, after the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prix.

Aside from “Ilo Ilo”, Angeli Bayani was also in the cast of Lav Diaz’s “Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan”, an entry at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. The film received a five-minute standing ovation during its premiere and reaped critical acclaim but failed to win a single award.