IT MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS OF ISLANDS!
Islands is one of the Narrative Feature competitors this year at SXSW Film Festival and it tackles a tale of immigration in Canada, where a shy Filipino middle-aged man named Joshua needs to tend to his father’s care after his mother passes away. He leaves his job to help his father in his daily routines while learning how to become a responsible caregiver and son, after so many years of being helped by his mother. Joshua has some difficulty connecting with people and his brother has the successful family he always wanted for himself. When his cousin comes from abroad, Joshua asks for her help to take care of his father, and after a while adjusting, her presence begins to stir up some unexpected and confusing emotions. Written and directed by Martin Edralin, Islands is an absorbing, extraordinary journey of being forced to leave your comfort zone and learning how to mature after being cared for for so many years.
Islands is a fascinating, intense and beautifully shot drama, where Rogelio Balagtas makes his big debut as Joshua, and Esteban Comilang is probably my first big bet in getting a nomination for next year’s Oscars. Together, alongside a very talented supporting cast, Islands achieves something truly special, not only as an immigration tale, but also as a self re-discovery experience, as we understand how the lead’s shyness has made him affraid of taking bold steps in his life. Islands is about family, about changing your ways to become a more responsible, more dedicated individual towards the people who nurtured you for the course of your life, and it’s a fascinating portrait of a man that is forced to become something he wasn’t prepared to become. Leaving your comfort zone and experiencing new challenges toughens you to a point where you need to take action over your life. Islands manages to never become melodramatic, which helps the audience to empathize to the circumstances that are presented, as well as makes the characters feel palpable and real.
Edralin clearly has the sensitivity of understanding the balances between not being comical of a premise that could easily fall in comedy standards, and not sound too soapy so that the reality in which the action takes place never loses its meaningfulness. Exploring this concept of picking yourself up and deal with a responsibility that drives you to become a better version of yourself is the film’s biggest triumph. Islands is precious filmmaking and one of SXSW Film Festival‘s best narrative features. The film takes its time to kick in, but every image is relevant for Joshua’s journey, and even if the ending doesn’t fulfill your expectations, it will certainly leave a smile on your face. Never losing its focus, Islands overcomes the usual immigration-centered narrative formula and upgrades it to a whole new level: an unique and rarely seen human experience that is fresh, poignant and intense.
Islands is an emotional, entertaining and graceful look into how ageing is not an impediment of having new experiences and starting a new chapter in life. Edralin’s construction of the narrative, especially when Joshua’s cousin becomes a figure that starts to shake his emotional core, is brave and breaks the boundaries of storytelling in a way that it understands its characters and knows exactly what tickles them. By making these careful moves, allowing the actors to be genuine, Edralin achieves something that has value and looks natural to the audience. Islands is a compelling, strong and invigorating tale of losing the fear of growing up and, most importantly, it’s a film that has something new to add to the world of cinema and is probably one that will make way for next year’s award season with ease.
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Original Title: Islands
Director: Martin Edralin
Runtime: 94 min.