Born in Singapore and based in London, Chen reps his home country in the Oscar foreign language race
For Anthony Chen, who won Cannes’ Camera d’Or prize for his debut “Ilo Ilo,” the support didn’t end on the Croisette. The Singapore-born director was touched when Camera d’Or jury president Agnes Varda and several of her fellow voters showed up to attend the Parisian premiere of his unassuming yet deeply affecting film, which has been selected to represent his home country in the Oscar-foreign language race.
A graduate of the Ngee Ann Polytechnic School of Film and Media Studies in Singapore and the National Film and Television School in the U.K., Chen drew inspiration from his childhood for “Ilo Ilo,” about a Filipino maid working for a Chinese family rocked by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The London-based helmer travels to Singapore to develop projects in Asia, but hopes that his next pic will be in English, produced out of the U.K. or U.S.
“I might still write more personal projects in the future,” says Chen, “but I am more keen now to direct material not written by myself. I don’t want to restrict my canvas and pigeonhole myself from other opportunities. Ideally, I would like to be involved early and develop projects together with a screenwriter and producer.”
One of the most striking aspects of Chen’s debut is the nuanced nature of the drama. All the central characters are complex, well-rounded and treated with sympathy even when behaving badly. “My writing process is very organic. I don’t start with a very clear structure,” explains Chen. But once the script crystallizes over a meticulous series of drafts, the director insists that every glance and gesture adheres to the plan.
“Ironically, as much as filmmaking is about control — a director wants to control every element in the mise-en-scene, the lighting, the performance — the medium is also very much about losing control,” he says. “I used to think one goes on a journey to find that illusive film, but now I think it is actually the film that is coming to find you.”
› Age: 29
› Home base: London
Bec Smith, UTA (U.S.); Camille McCurry, United Agents (U.K.)