Film Review: Islands
By Mahil Senathirajah
Directed by Martin Edralin
94 min - Canada
North American Independent Cinema
Islands is an elegantly understated and emotionally nuanced film. It follows the story of Joshua, a painfully shy but tender hearted Filipino-Canadian immigrant; lonely and longing for love. Living with his parents at 50, Joshua quits his job to take care of his ailing father after his mother suddenly passes away, further deepening his isolation. A cousin comes to help for a few weeks, escaping the indentured servitude that is effectively her caregiving job in Kuwait.
The film could have been manipulative, focusing on the big emotional beats inherent in the premise. Instead, it trusts that small moments of domestic drama can carry the film and engage the audience. Simple, scoreless scenes of toileting his father, being taught how to chop an onion by the cousin and praying for and end to his loneliness create a deep empathy for Joshua’s internal struggle. The cumulative effective of those naturalistic scenes is emotionally powerful.
The film is also about the profound but unavoidable sacrifice that new immigrants make to forge a new life. For anyone who has been a caregiver or relied on the humanity of a caregiver to take care of a loved one, the film will make you cry. It did me.
The film is also particularly resonant right now given the unsung heroism of low-paid health care workers in fighting covid, many women of color. Acclaimed documentarian Matt Heineman (Cartel Land) has a film out, “The First Wave”, which got cameras into Long Island Jewish Medical Center at the very beginning of the pandemic. One of the stories it follows centers on a pregnant, Filipina nurse and her family. The film is essentially war reporting and the nurse a war hero. It is on Hulu.
Visit sbiff.org for more information on how to view the film.