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SXSW 2021

SXSW 2021 Movie Review: Islands

By: Rachel Ho

Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) is a man seemingly content with life. He lives at home with his parents, his mom (Vangie Alcasid) cooks and cleans, and he has a clock-in, clock-out job as a janitor at a university — he’s comfortable. But of course, comments about finding a girlfriend and having children pepper the household conversation and his own insecurities build as he himself fears that he will be alone. After his mom suddenly passes away, Joshua takes on the role of sole caregiver for his father (Esteban Comilang) and struggles with his new domestic tasks. His cousin, Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), steps in and helps take care of Joshua’s father while also breathing new life into Joshua himself.

Islands tells a story that we’ve seen before but in the context of Filipino culture, it feels like something different.

There has been an increase in Asian-American/Canadian representation in movies and on TV, but Filipino representation specifically has gone relatively under the radar. Islands is a universal story that many will relate to and can connect with, and when steeped in Filipino-Canadian culture, it will feel have a warm feeling of familiarity to those who know it. Edralin creates this world not just in the religious aesthetics and common Filipino foods, but in the strong familial bonds and sense of duty placed on a child that are evident throughout the movie.

The harsh reality for many Filipina caregivers around the world is also given a voice when Marisol recounts her harrowing working conditions in Kuwait to Joshua. While a singular moment in the film that does not get revisited or explored further, Edralin’s inclusion of Marisol’s story brings immense power. Marisol’s situation is not fictional nor is it unique. The treatment of Filipina caregivers across Asia and the Middle East has been the worst kept secret in those regions as it is merely acceptable behaviour. Edralin should be applauded for including this difficult discussion in Islands.

This is Martin Edralin’s feature debut and he does a decent job. While the script is predictable and the performances are uneven at times, the heart and the poignancy of the story still shines through.

Islands currently has no wide North American release date

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