The opening sequence of writer-director Martin Edralin’s Islands features close-ups of simple house details and textured wallpaper. These visual cues set the table nicely, as the film is modest both in tone and outcome; there’s nothing necessarily earth-shattering to Edralin’s story, yet his film’s invitation to look closer at its setting and characters is worthwhile. There is major drama here, general and specific, that is reflective of real life.
The focal point of Islands is Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas), a single man around 50 who lives with his parents. He’s not quite unhappy, but various pressures are mounting. The truth is: he’s shy, and his life has clearly become disjointed after his departure from the Phillippines some time ago. Thanks to his mother (Vangie Alcasid), their household hums along—Joshua works as a janitor, his quiet father (Esteban Comilang) is looked after, and a hesitant social life is maintained. After his mother dies, however, Joshua is adrift. Edralin approaches all of this with a subtle exactitude; the film meets Joshua where he’s at, without judgement, and with what feels like accuracy. As the film’s narrative turns, Joshua’s cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco) arrives and there are additional complications—for Joshua, and Marisol too. This is the film’s finest touch. Despite its earnest trappings, with mostly inexperienced actors and straightforward camera work, Edralin exposes a depth of feeling—around faith, immigration, elder care, and more—that almost comes as a surprise. Like Joshua, the film is quiet in how it goes about its everyday business, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more there to discover.
This is now the second recent film gaining attention out of Toronto’s east end, along with the more expansive Scarborough. Though different in scope, both films work in a similar register and from a desire to represent the lives of people who may otherwise be overlooked—even if, as with Joshua, it’s seemingly by choice. Islands does not call attention to itself, but the film’s singular focus reveals multitudes anyway.