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Islands (2021)

“Islands” shines a light on someone that few would spare a second thought: Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) is a middle-aged Filipino custodian at a Canadian university who lives with his elderly parents. Although his coworkers invite him for lunch and even offer to pick up the tab, Joshua prefers to sit alone in the breakroom eating baon packed by mom (Vangie Alcasid) and scratching a ticket. He doesn’t have much of a social life, not to mention a love life. When both of his parents become ill and require full-time care, he quits his job to tend to them. Soon after, he relents and calls his cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), who has just fled an abusive job situation, to help look after mom and dad (Esteban Comilang) and move into his brother’s old room.

Similar to “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers,” this film is about the tightknit families and community centers in the Filipino diaspora. While the former is preoccupied with representation and white gaze, “Islands” writer-director, Martin Edralin, depicts sobering facts of immigrant life: that expats are often vastly underemployed because their professional certifications are unrecognized in their adopted country and that they are often subject to indentured servitude and exploitation due to a lack of governmental oversight of their individual employers.

Over time, Joshua develops feelings for Marisol. Mr. Edralin tenderly casts these events as Joshua’s finally coming out of his shell, while what actually transpires is by legal definition a cringy case of workplace sexual harassment. Joshua’s self-flagellation immediately follows, which actually makes Marisol feel bad. Because he’s a complete basket case, his transgressions and his somewhat childish and somewhat manipulative withdrawal in the fallout seem to get a free pass from the saintly Marisol. The film ends on a sweet and hopeful note about his new lease on life. It’s just terrible that his personal growth comes at a long-suffering woman’s expense.


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