Over the last year, we’ve lived in isolation due to a once in a lifetime virus. Many people had to learn how to adapt to living at home, being alone, and staying away from humans for some time. But for some, they were already prepared for such an event because their normal day to day life consists on shielding themselves from everything around them and just living their life quietly, one moment at a time. In Martin Edralin’s Islands, Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) perfectly displays the average introvert searching for more in his life, even as family events hinder that search.
Joshua is a middle aged Filipino immigrant who still lives with his elderly parents. While his brother has gone on to have a career and a family, Joshua has spent his life going from moment to moment as silently as he can. He is not a man of confrontation, but rather of kindness and seclusion. During the day, he works as a janitor for a small company in his town, and when he comes home, he helps his parents to the best of his abilities. When a freak accident occurs, and his mother passes away, it’s Joshua who must continue what she did, and help take care of his father who is slowly dying of dementia.
Throughout the film, we witness Joshua praying to god, asking for a chance to have a happy life, with someone to love and care for. He’s not jealous at all of his brother’s family, he just wants more than what he has, and in a sense, wants to be able to have the luxury of having some normalcy in his life like those in his family and those he sees at his work from a distance. It’s not till Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), a cousin who comes to help him with his father, is introduced when Joshua truly sees what it is like to have someone around him at all times who he can connect with, and he doesn’t want that feeling to go away. It’s optimistic, and doesn’t think our main character has to live this way forever. Therefore, he can go find the happiness we all strive to achieve.
Edralin’s sense of tone really shines through with the debut. He leaves Joshua in a cinematic world of loneliness, with barely any music or flashes of light in the frame. We go from moment to moment at a pace Joshua wants to go. The film never pushes us in a direction in which the events on screen aren’t organically created by the protagonist. In the end, through the Edralin’s direction and Balagtas’s elegant performance, we really get the sense of who Joshua is, to which we can empathize with him and his warm heart.
Beyond Joshua’s story, we get a glimpse of what a traditional Filipino family looks like and how the family would deal with their elder’s battle with dementia. Much like other films that have debuted over the last couple of years, Islands tackles it in a very realistic, heartbreaking manner. As someone who had multiple grandparents have this tragic disease, it’s makes me sympathize with the characters because everything they are going through is relatable. But in the case of Joshua, he really gets the brunt of the responsibility in taking care of his father, and the emotional and metal strain on him is very evident leaves you just wanting to tell him it’s all going to be okay. Islands will leave a lingering impression on you long after its run time due to how intimate and personal everything you see on screen is. We all might know a Joshua in our life, someone who is shy and afraid to speak up. But what Edralin presents is a world in which the soft spoken get to tell their story, and through that, we see them shine bright and accept that the world isn’t so bad with the volume turned down.
This review is from the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.