“Steam Room Stories: My Penis’s Name”

And a New Member of the Cast


Charlie-Merlo-steam-room-stories2While most web series are lucky to make six episodes a year, but Steam Room Stories is a bit of a powerhouse that manages two new eps. a month each and every month. The latest one is as fun as always and also introduces a new cast member, Charlie Merlo, who’s in the steam room chatting about the names guys give their schlong.

Talking about joining the show Charlie comments, “I auditioned for Steam Room Stories with (creator/writer) JC (Calciano) and we just clicked. I read for two parts and had a good feeling. JC called me to welcome me aboard that day.”

As for whether filming it is a nerve-wracking experience, he says, “It’s a bunch of guys in towels. It’d be tough to not be friendly. But I knew we were a team when I came back from make up and Ben (Palacios) let me know I missed a spot… It’s the little things like makeup that bring gym guys together.”

“THE BEARS OF BEIRUT”— Helping Gays in the Middle East

THE BEARS OF BEIRUT is a documentary about two Lebanese gay men helping other LGBTs with the effects of Syria’s brutal war. See how you can support us below.





THE BEARS OF BEIRUT is a new documentary about two Lebanese gay men doing their best to help other gay people streaming in from Syria’s brutal war.

Beirut-based Bertho and Hixam have recently established Proud Lebanon, a non-religious, non-political, non-partisan civil rights society, offering a community centre for those who need it. This organisation is struggling to provide help to the many gay, lesbian and trans people in need of medical care, psychological assistance, and transit to a gay-friendly country. With over 1 million Syrians arriving in Lebanon in the last two years, Bertho and Hicham are working against the odds to assist many new arrivals to Beirut in dire need. This film is their story – about community, about tolerance, and about what is next for Lebanon and the entire Middle East.

We can only make this film with your help. Here’s how you can get involved with our campaign.



Why are we making this film? The answer is far from simple, so here are some details below.

Firstly, the title. BEIRUT is the easy part, but are there BEARS that exist in that city? Perhaps at the local zoo. The kind of bears we are focussing on are of the gay subculture variety. A “bear”, as mentioned in our film above, is a type of gay man with a hairy body, facial hair, and are either stocky, muscular or both. This subculture within the gay community exists all over the world.

In Beirut, a liberal city in a very conservative region, there is a community of gay bears that live somewhat openly. Bertho, one of the subjects of our film, and a leading light in the local bear community, ran the only travel agency for LGBT people in the entire Arab world. As part of his tours, he organized a “Mr. Bear Arabia” beauty pageant, where the idea of what is considered beautiful was turned completely on its head.


Bertho’s business was deeply affected by the decline in tourism thanks to the ongoing war in Syria. The war has affected Lebanon in many ways, with the UN claiming that over 1 million Syrians have come over the border looking for a safe haven.

He and his friend Hixam (also part of the bear community in Beirut) have instead turned their talents to setting up Proud Lebanon, which has been working to assist both Beirut locals and LGBT Syrian refugees with resources that the groaning public services in Lebanon cannot. They are doing so with very little financial support, and a lot of good will. And, with things possiblygetting more complicated for gay people in Beirut, will they be able to continue without added pressure? Like many small countries, Lebanon struggles with conflicting religious interests and ever-changing politics which affect the daily lives of its residents.


The time to film this story is now, as ever-shifting current events are having an effect on all involved. We want to make the world aware of the plight of these brave people, and your contribution to our campaign will allow us to focus on this specific group who to date are virtually ignored by the world’s media.

We aim to focus THE BEARS OF BEIRUT on the following:


  • What Bertho, Hixam, and their colleagues are doing, selflessly, for many others who arrive to Proud Lebanon. Those they are helping are in need of psychological and medical help, the need to socialize, and for some, assistance to relocate to countries such as Sweden and Canada.
  • Those they have helped (or are helping) get transit to a more gay-friendly country: how have their lives changed by leaving Syria and arriving somewhere else far from home?
  • The small and friendly gay bear community in Beirut – how they are coping with the changes in Lebanon?

This fundraising event will go towards the first phase of our film – to make a short version of the full movie to demonstrate to others the huge potential of this project.





We have come to Indiegogo in search of capital for the first phase of our documentary for several reasons.

  1. Our biggest challenge: we are based in Sweden, where it is very difficult for filmmakers to receive funding for documentary films, even those that went on to win an Oscar.
  2. Unlike other crowdsourcing sites, Indiegogo guarantees your participation with your contribution. Every gift you make will go towards the film, even if we don’t reach our goal of $40,000.
  3. We are in need of footage in order to secure more funding. We intend to start filming in Beirut in November 2014 and will produce a short film that we can then pitch to more international documentary funders.
  4. You will feel absolutely amazing after contributing to a project that intends to change the way people view the lives of LGBT people in the Middle east.

Take a look at the column on the right for the perks we are offering for every contribution, no matter the size. We want to ensure that every contributornot only receives something, but will be part of the film’s ongoing grassroots community. Be part of our regular newsletter, get a credit in the film, receive a souvenir from Beirut, premiere the film at home or to a group, have us speak to your class or group about our film, or even come to dinner with us.






Your pledge towards our $40,000 goal will allow us to cover a number of costs for this phase of the film.


Remember, every pledge, no matter how big, will go directly to these costs:

Your pledge will go towards:
1. An Arri Alexa camera, the same camera recently used to shoot SKYFALL,THE AVENGERS and AMOUR.
2. Sound equipment.
3. Lighting equipment.

1. Flights from Sweden to Lebanon for two people.
2. A rental van for travel within Beirut.

Required to film in Lebanon.

1. From Sweden
Producer/Director: Rick Jacobs
Cinematographer: Gabriel Mkrttchian

2. From Lebanon
We are working with Beirut-based Olive Tree Productions to source a:
Sound Technician
Camera Assistant
Production Manager

Apartment rental in Beirut, provided at a discount as a favour to us.



THE BEARS OF BEIRUT is also fortunate to have the support of GROWLr, one of the biggest apps for bears available online. GROWLr have offered us sponsorship-in-kind for this campaign to get the word out. A great start from the biggest supporter of the bear community worldwide.









The team behind this crowdsourcing campaign are Rick Jacobs and Gabriel Mkrttchian. Here is who we are.


RICK JACOBS – Producer/Director
Rick comes from the USA but has called Europe his hope for over 20 years. He currently resides in Malmö, Sweden.


Rick’s background is as a producer and director for theatre, television and film. He has spent the last three years writing and producing TAREQ TAYLOR’S NORDIC COOKERY, now broadcast in 117 countries on such networks as BBC Worldwide, RTL, Fox International Channels and UKTV.

He has directed stage musicals and opera in London and New York, including a London revival of the epic musical GOLDEN BOY, originally starring Sammy Davis, Jr., HIGH SOCIETY (UK tour), and THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE. Rick also directed the new musical CONNECT/DISCONNECT in NYC in 2009.

THE BEARS OF BEIRUT marks his debut as a documentary director. “As a gay man, stories about other LGBT people who struggle with life decisions they can’t control is something very close to my heart,” says Rick.


“The Emperor Waltz” by Philip Hensher—- Three Stories Drawn Together

the emperor waltz

Hensher, Philip. “The Emperor Waltz”, Fourth Estate, 2014.

Three Stories Drawn Together

Amos Lassen

 “The Emperor Waltz” brings together various narrative strands into a total reading experience. We begin in a third-century desert settlement on the fringes of the Roman Empire where a new wife becomes fascinated by a cult that is persecuted by the Emperor Diocletian. We then move forward to 1922 when Christian, a young artist, travels to Weimar to begin his studies at the Bauhaus and finds where the avant-garde confronts conservative elements around it. Postwar Germany is in a state of turmoil as the Bauhaus tries to explore radical ways of thinking and living and Christian finds that love will change him forever. Then we go to London of the  1970s and meet Duncan who uses his inheritance to establish the country’s first gay bookshop despite opposition from the neighbors and victimization by the police.

This is a novel that delves deep into the human spirit to explore the connections between love, sanctity, commitment and virtue. Author Philip Hensher uses small groups of men and women, tightly bound together, trying to change the world through the example of their lives. The novel looks at what it means for us to belong to each other.

The book is 610 pages long but every page is a gem. Even with that length, the pages fly by. Hensher has written three main stories and two shorter pieces. The three main stories, which are written at intervals within the book, seem to come together at the end. He writes about St. Perpetua, a Christian martyr in the Third Century, a redhead who swept her hair off her neck, so as to give her executioner a clean blow with his sword. The red hair is important and it returns again and again in other sections of the book. The second story introduces us to real Bauhaus teachers and craftsmen in their first school in Weimar. Paul Klee and Wassily Kadinsky mix as teachers to the imaginary characters of brothers Christian and Dolphus Vogt and sisters Adele and Elsa Winteregger. The brothers were sons of a Berlin banker and the daughters of a master puppet maker. The physical and emotional problems of Germany in the 1920′s and 30′s – both physical and emotional are alluded to in the story and Hensher does this effectively. The main story is that of Duncan Flannery, a young gay male, who is determined to open a gay bookstore in the late 1970s in London. Duncan is the source of everything that happens around him and this is his story of his friends and lovers.

What we have are three side-by-side stories—they include the birth of Christianity in a third-century Roman provincial town; post-Great War Germany, the Bauhaus, the Weimar republic and the growing power of Nazism; 1980s London, where a young man opens London’s first a gay bookshop at the same time that a mysterious new disease was hitting the gay community very hard.

This book is about the marginalized, the outsiders—those people who are determined to be themselves and go against the norms of society and face prejudice, fear and persecution. Yet these are the people that change the world. This is what connects the different threads together.

Philip Hensher’s prose and vocabulary are glorious, his descriptions are amazing and his dialogue is perfect. Even with the three different stories and lots of characters there is no confusion and the mixture of real characters with imaginary ones is a stroke of brilliance. It is certainly not easy to bring the Thatcher era, the Weimar Republic, and the persecutions of Christians during the reign of the Roman Emperor Severus together but it is done here and wonderfully so.

There are recurring symbols in the stories— the blackbird  that is evidently a symbol of hope, life, innocence and the beauty of nature in this novel, and the Emperor Waltz that brings to mind a romantic, ordered past that is no more. The blackbird sings in various places and times and these symbols are supplemented by visions of a paradise filled with color as captured in the Bauhaus artist Johannes Itten’s wheel patterns of contrasting colors.

 The author explores important and major issues, and gives us a host of memorable characters – the red- headed merchant’s daughter in the desert town, and the red-headed girl who defies the Gestapo are united by a common bravery in confronting oppression; Duncan’s sister Dommie, who has a child by a virtual stranger in the less tolerant late 1970s; and Arthur, a runway from a Northern town who is sheltered by Duncan. There is also  name-dropping of prominent gays and their supporters in the 1970s and 1980s.

 The recurring theme of what it is to be an outsider, the eccentricity of humanity is celebrated with soul and heart, set against the forces which are afraid of individual personal connection, and that operate to conform and stultify.



A Latino barber secretly falls in love with a handsome Irish stranger over the course of a haircut during a hot and sweaty summer afternoon in a macho Brooklyn hood.
A struggling LA actress impersonates Madonna for the day as a birthday gift for her recently dumped gay BFF…but things don’t go as planned.
Hunkered down in their apartment when a hurricane hits, a couple deals with the crossroads of commitment, disaster and the art of being prepared.
For fans of the film CRUISING, or cruising in general – a toy for all ages!
A high school girl from the South seeks the help of a therapist to come out to her family and friends in this hilarious and touching coming-of-age tale.
At 92, Robina Asti, a WWII veteran and pilot, tells her story of living as a transgender woman since 1976 and her fight to be treated like any other widow.
Inspired by true events, Aban & Khorshid is an intimate portrait of two lovers, glimpsing into the world in which they met, moments before they face the ultimate punishment for being gay.

“I AM SYD STONE”— Iris Prize Nominated Gay-Themed Short Film

“I Am Syd Stone”

Iris Prize Nominated Gay-Themed Short Film


‘A Hollywood heartthrob returns home for his ten-year high school reunion with the intention of rekindling a closeted relationship.’

In his director’s statement on the film’s website, helmer Denis Theriault comments, “In the film, Syd is at a point in his life where he’s achieved all he’s ever dreamed of. At 27 years old he has hit his peak. That’s a dangerous position to be in. How does one react to that? We always set goals and tell ourselves that when they’re achieved, our lives will be better for it. Oftentimes, that’s not the case. We get to that milestone or goal and we’re still left feeling empty. That’s where we find ourselves at the beginning of the film. Syd’s achieved this success, but has no one with whom to share it.

“I’m also incredibly fascinated by the public personas put on by celebrities. They’re never truly themselves other than when they’re alone or with loved ones (I guess, in a sense, we’re all actors).

“Ultimately, this film is a catharsis for me. The person I was, even 5 years ago, would never have believed that he would be tackling a gay subject in film, especially in such a personal way. I now am an out-and-proud man. All of the people I was afraid of telling either know or don’t care enough to ask. All they’re concerned with is if I’m talented, that’s it. As it often happens in life, we make bigger deals of situations than we really need to. But in that moment, it doesn’t matter. We feel like the whole world will come down on us.”


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KABBALAH ME”—- Opens August 22 in New York, Opens September 5 in Los Angeles

First Run Features presents

Opens August 22 in New York
Opens September 5 in Los Angeles









First Run Features is proud to present the theatrical premiere ofKabbalah Me, a new documentary feature directed by Steven Bram and Judah Lazarus. The film will open on August 22 in New York City and September 5 in Los Angeles.

Kabbalah Me follows a personal journey into the spiritual phenomenon known as Kabbalah. Rooted in the Torah and Talmud, Kabbalah has been studied by leading Judaic scholars for many centuries, but many Jews are unaware or uninformed about Kabbalah and its significance. The film tells the story of how co-director Steven Bram, feeling a spiritual void in his life, immerses himself into the world of Kabbalah.

Raised in New York as a secular Jew and without much interest in organized religion, Steven grew up to lead a conventional life – marrying a nice Jewish woman from the suburbs, fathering two beautiful daughters, living on the Upper West Side, and working at a sports and entertainment company. But after 9/11, he felt a longing for a deeper and more fulfilling spiritual life. This longing leads Steven on a five year journey that includes reconnecting with his Hasidic family members, studying with Judaic scholars, and taking a pilgrimage to Israel, where he immerses himself in the history and traditions of the Holy Land and meets with charismatic Rabbis, Talmudic scholars and spiritual leaders.

As Steven’s spiritual journey progresses, the mystical and complex world of Kabbalah, with its varying interpretations and myriad rituals and lessons, slowly unfolds, leading to profound changes in all aspects of his life.

KABBALAH ME Opens August 22 at the Quad Cinema in NYC
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

KABBALAH ME Opens September 5 at Laemmle Theatres in LA
Co-Director Steven Bram will be in person at select opening weekend shows.

Steven Bram has been the COO of New York-based Bombo Sports & Entertainment, LLC since its founding in 1999. He has produced over 50 sports films for television, DVD and digital release. Steven also sits on the board of the Aish Center in New York.

Judah Lazarus is a music video director whose work includes videos by AZ, Reakwon of the Wu Tang Clan and Trick Daddy. As an actor Judah played opposite Tim Robbins in Noise. Judah also developed the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner The Believer, starring Ryan Gosling. Judah and his partner Moshe Lazarus now run High Line Productions, which is developing a TV series about Brooklyn’s Hassidic Hipster subculture.

80 minutes, English, Documentary, 2014
Produced & Directed Steven E. Bram
Directed by Judah Lazarus
Edited by Neco Turkienicz, Adam Zucker
Associate Producers Ilana Ellis Klein, Rina Perkel
Original Music by Jamie Saft
Original Story by Steven E. Bram, Rabbi Adam Jacobs
Story Consultant Jack Youngelson
Written by Steven E. Bram, Judah Lazarus , Adam Zucker


“Favorite Son” by Will Freshwater— Learning Who He Is

favorite son

Freshwater, Will. “Favorite Son”, Dreamspinner Press, 2014.

Learning Who He Is

Amos Lassen

John Wells came from a working class family but he has managed to really pull himself up. When we meet him, he is chief-of-staff to the most powerful lawmaker on Capitol Hill and everything seems to be great about him. He is handsome, well built, has a wonderful boyfriend, a great best friend and is living what we might call the perfect life. He just doesn’t seem to understand  how this all happened to him and therefore he can easily lose it and he does. He became his work and because of that he could not handle a close relationship. It just took one day for him to lose it all and when that happens he has no idea of what to do and he has no one to talk to about what has happened. On the spur of the moment he heads to Provincetown and there John becomes Peter.

He rents a small place and shuts himself off from the outside world aside from a group of people that he calls his friends but that really have nothing in common with him (or anyone else for that matter). They, like him, have all suffered some kind of loss. John/Peter gets a volunteer job helping a local named Daniel to restore an old chapel. Daniel was not much of a conversationalist and did not talk much about his life and we sense that he is dealing with some kind of pain and/or loss. Daniel tells Peter that he is straight but only after they have spend time working together and becoming friends. But as they got to know each other better, Daniel does open up to Peter and talks of what he has lost in life and why he would not admit to Peter that he was gay. They soon were involved with each other and a relationship begins. But then quiet suddenly John is called back to Washington and he goes. At first he thinks it is wonderful to be back and to have power but then he begins to miss Provincetown and Daniel.

It is hard to believe that this is a first novel but I safely predict that we shall be hearing more and more from Will Freshwater. He has created a main character that we love on one page and hate on the next. Having John/Peter narrate the story is a stroke of literary genius in that he can tells us about the intrigues in Washington and about the intrigues in his own life. The other characters are also wonderfully developed (as are the sex scenes).

We also get a look at the main character’s mind. We see him as John the hard worker and as Peter, a relaxed guy who loves to have fun. It is also great to watch a relationship develop first as a friendship and then as a loving relationship.

I love that this is a novel about two men who find love and that it is written by a man. He was able to recount how men feel and he does so with sincerity and honesty. Maybe he will start a trend and more male writers will begin to reclaim the genre. While we read about romance, this is not only a romance novel—it is much more. The novel is really about  John/Peter’s finding out who he is and while we have many novels that use that theme, this one does so effectively.


“IN BETWEEN SONGS”— Against All Odds

in between songs the poster

“In Between Songs”

Against all Odds

Amos Lassen

in between1

“In Between Songs” looks at how one Aboriginal family must fight to save their legacy. Djalu Gurruwiwi, and his sister are community elders and “they strive to shepherd their clan through countless internal and external pressures, while searching desperately for new custodians to safeguard their musical and cultural legacy”. Their community is the small Australian Aboriginal group of Nhulunbuy. (I have a strong feeling that spell check will not like this review).

in between 2

 Djalu Gurruwiwi, a famed traditional didjeridu craftsman and player, alongside his sister, Dhanggal, strain to keep Galpu clan traditions safe from numerous internal and external forces. When Djalu’s son, Larry, proves to have limited interest in continuing the clan or instrument’s legacy, the elders are forced to turn their attention toward the Gurruwiwi grandchildren. There is a complication with the Rio Tinto bauxite mine that is a multi-billion dollar industry. Brother and sister try to move the family out to traditional homelands deep into the bush but this is not easy because of the limited infrastructure and lack of formal schooling for the youth. While attempting to shepherd their clan through economical, environmental, cultural and social pressures, Djalu and Dhanggal Gurruwiwi remain firmly resolved in their mission to maintain tradition. The film follows their struggle to survive and to keep their traditions.

in between 3

Newly initiated boys in the tribe have limited long term vision and maturity and often become victims to the peer pressures of drugs and alcohol. The modern distractions of computers and video games, made available to them even in this remote community, compound their lack of drive and consistent adherence to traditional life.
 Alcohol and drug use from mining personnel frequently spills over into the traditional clan groups.

in between 4

The environment has implications for generations to come because of what the mine is doing to the land. visible and highly lethal environmental impacts from the mine’s presence will certainly have lasting implications for generations to come.
 The costs involved for transportation and supplies in this remote region greatly diminish the plan of moving the clan. James Cromwell narrates this film about family life and culture as it tries to find a balance between the ancient and modern world.

“Going Gay My Journey from Evangelical Christian to Self-Acceptance Love, Life and Meaning” by Tim Rymel— Finding Himself

going gay

Rymel, Tim. “Going Gay My Journey from Evangelical Christian to Self-Acceptance Love, Life and Meaning”, CK Publishing, 2014.

Finding Himself

Amos Lassen

Tim Rymel is an ordained evangelical minister who once was the outreach director of Love in Action, one of the oldest and most renowned ex-gay (reparative therapy) ministries in the world. During the heyday of the ministry in the 1990′s, he and is staff appeared on countless television and radio shows with their bogus message of “Freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” Rymel was considered to be a “success story” of the ex-gay movement but his world fell apart when his wife divorced him. He then went on a journey searching for self-acceptance and learning how to deal with faith and life.

For years he had been convinced that he had succeeded to come to heterosexuality through prayer and he went on toe marry a woman and hit the talk show circuit. This book is about that journey. “I want the conservative church to see the painful reality that many of their own believers go through to come to terms with their inborn homosexuality,” Rymel said. “I wrote the book ‘as one of their own’ to create dialogue and cause them to rethink what they believe and what the Bible says about homosexuality.”

Because of his past, readers may not buy Rymel’s story but it is a story to be read and thought about.and understand himself,” said Justin Lee, founder and Executive Director of Gay Christian Network. “In a culture where faith and sexuality seem often to be at war, the stories of those caught in the crossfire are critically important. Readers may not agree with all of Rymel’s views, but this is a story worth telling and a story worth understanding.”

Rymel reveals himself to be a self-loving, accepting human being and he even goes so far as to say that “God loves you exactly the way you are”  and these are important words for those struggling with their beliefs and with who they are.

Rymel is a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a Christian, a minister, a partner and basically just Tim Rymel. He had to struggle with dealing with  sexual preference and religious and political beliefs and ideas as well as the stereotypes that surround them but he is defined by so much more. It took his journey to understand this.

Tim Rymel has shared his story authentically and honesty and he is very clear about what he says. He admits openly that he sees the values in what he has gone through in the past and writes about how they have been responsible for making him the man that he is today. He has done away with feelings of shame and therefore is now able to live openly and honestly. I am sure that his journey to self-acceptance was painful and difficult and any of us who have ever been on a journey can agree with. After all, I would say that most of us are constantly looking for acceptance somewhere.

This is a real and raw story and we sense all of Rymel’s sufferings. We all need to know how to accept others and ourselves without trying to define us with a single word or concept. Anyone with a religious background that challenges his or her own acceptance (and I am not just speaking about sexuality) will understand what this man went through. I am sure that the writer had to struggle to write this book but he says things we all need to know.

“ILO ILO”— The Family and the Maid

ilo ilo


The Family and the Maid

Amos Lassen

Set in 1997 in Singapore, we meet the Lim family and learn about their relationship to their maid Teresa who has recently arrived in their country and in their home. Teresa is a Filipina who has moved to the city in order to make a better life for herself but her presence in the family weighs on them in addition to the troubles that they were already dealing with. Jiale, the son is young and seemingly made of trouble but he and Teresa form a bond and Teresa becomes almost a member of the family. The Asian financial crisis was also beginning to have an affect on the family and on others as well.

The film won this years Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and is a wonderful account of one family trying to survive economic and domestic struggles in Singapore.

ilo ilo 1

Because she is a Filipino immigrant, Teresa is an outsider not only in the family but in society as well. Her job includes managing Jiale’s behavior and the bond between them brings Teresa to the status of an unspoken member of the family but when the financial crisis hits the family all of the relationships are at risk.

Filmmaker Anthony Chen based the story on his own family’s live-in maid and her contributions to his life as a child. I understand that they lost touch but with the international release of the film, they had the chance to catch up on all that they missed. I grew up with a maid although she did not live with us and we became quite close. Then I left the states for more than twenty years and during that time my parents died. When I came for a visit we had a family reunion and Dell was there and it was wonderful. I firmly believe that we do not know the value of what we have until we no longer have it.

ilo ilo2

The beauty of Chen’s portrait of family life in 1997 is that he manages to capture an entire period within one intimate slice of life. “Beautifully acted and precisely observed, ‘ILO ILO’ is an amazing debut, full of heart and intelligence.”

The film is filled with love, humor and heartbreak. T focuses on the bond between a ten-year-old boy and his Filipina nanny as the family struggles with the financial crisis. Chen depicts class and racial tensions within a household and his accessible style enabling the characters’ underlying decency and warmth to emerge unforced. Chen describes the predicament of so many Asian children who are placed in the care of foreign maidswhile their parents work to maintain a double-income lifestyle. Keng Teck Lim (Chen Tian Wen) has lost his sales exec job, but hasn’t found the courage to tell anyone; his wife, Hwee Leng (Yeo Yann Yann), is pregnant, but still woks as a secretary even though this drains her mentally. Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) is starved for attention and has become a troublemaker at school, forcing the Lims to hire domestic help Terry (Angeli Bayani), who hails from Ilo Ilo in the Philippines to keep an eye on him.

At first Jaile bullies Teresa and we see him as the rambunctious brat that he is but Terry is not willing to take his abuse and eventually the two begin to really care about each other. This is beautifully filmed at a point when Jaile notices that Teresa is not at a family banquet and he offers her his soup and says that it is very expensive and he really doesn’t like it.

ilo ilo3

Director Chen tells his story simply and the movie is driven forward by the characters and sketches of home life. We get a moving picture of the father who has a hurt ego after losing his job but maintains his good-natured personality. The mother tries very hard to keep the family together in spite of bossiness and spite of Teresa. We see her jealous of the relationship her son has with the maid and this is a reflection of the uneasy interdependence between working women and the nannies that become surrogate mothers to their children.

Teresa radiates dignity even though her character is neither martyr nor saint. She is a pragmatic woman who will lie a little to survive and she wonderfully radiates emotions. However the film belongs to Jaile who is a dynamic young actor who does not have to try to be cute. He allows us to see the humorous, fiercely loyal kid beneath the obnoxious pranks and wild temper. The relationship between Jiale and Terry is interwoven with the Lims’ financial woes, which loom larger in the second half.

Chen is more interested in the people than plot and his excellent screenplay is delivered in a low-key docudrama style with no contrivance and melodrama. He creates a slice of life with a genuine feel for family politics and local culture, deftly and subtly revealing a little more about his subjects and the way they live their lives with every scene.

The relationship between Teresa and Jiale is at the film’s heart, and we see the boy as good-hearted but with other tendencies, while the maid mourns the child she left behind and isn’t going to stand for any nonsense. Together they form a strong mother/son bond that has a few layers of ‘something’ more on top. Chen is equally adept in his portrait of a marriage and shows the very real pressures of a lower-middle-class marriage and trying to survive  financial pressures.