A terminal illness prematurely aged my father into cane to walker to wheelchair dependence. Life slows down when you live and care for the elderly. Now, my rhythms are slowed by the constant need to encourage an elderly large dog to walk outside. I remember when he once pranced in AKC shows, finally winning his championship with a tail held high and eagerly swishing his excitement. The metronome of his tail wagging is now a languid, anguished beat of arthritis.
Screenwriter/director Martin Edralin captures the patience required as the tyranny of aging affects a loved one in his film: “Islands.” Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) is also the eldest son. He was once a dentist, but leaving the Philippines meant he wasn’t licensed for Canada. Needing to support his parents–Alma (Vangie Alcasid), and his father, Reynaldo (Esteban Comilang), Joshua couldn’t afford the dentistry re-education and found humble work as a janitor. Joshua’s younger brother Paolo’s (Pablo S.J. Quiogue) married a White woman and lives outside of the mundane stress of elder care.
Alma notes that Reynaldo once was quite the flamboyant entertainer, dressing up as the white jump-suited Vegas Elvis. Now, he’s someone to be guided through life, including a senior group line dance class. If there is joy in this family, the spark comes from Alma, but she dies.
In a path that parallel’s Joshua, Filipino Canadian Edralin also captures the plight of the dutiful Filipina daughter, Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco). Marisol had often been invited to visit in Canada by Alma, but only finally makes it to attend Alma’s funeral. Marisol has been earning money in Kuwait, sending it back to her family in the Philippines. Like her cousin Joshua, she has missed out on love and family and unfortunately, lived a life filled with sexual harassment and possible assault.
Family is many things and sometimes sacrifices made for one’s family means not making a family of one’s own. In a global economy, the tradition of elder brothers and sisters supporting their family isn’t always appreciated and “Islands” seems like a sad tribute to the lonely men and women not just living far from the islands of their birth, but also living as islands of isolation in far flung cities and countries.
“Islands” made its world premiere at SXSW Online 2021. Because of scenes of masturbation, this is not a family film. In Filipino and English with English subtitles. Running time is 94 minutes.