MANILA, Philippines – With love, there is loneliness.
Whammy Alcazaren’s “Islands” seems initially trapped in its seemingly clichéd title, but we later realize that the small bodies of land in which the filmmaker refers to is not of the geographic kind. An astronaut, a grandmother, a tribesman and a director round up this journey that transcends time, space and reality. The result is cryptic, but also emotionally profound.
The films begins with a confession, a description of a love letter that is folded unendingly for a faceless, nameless love. We know not who is speaking, nor who it is for; there is only the voice and the love that he is bound to.
In many ways, the characters that populate Alcazaren’s Islands is as faceless as the persona in the confession. But at the same time, they are universal in their identity. The elements that tie them are more than a piece of furniture, a poster, a fairy tale or a moment. It is the isolation that separates us, and at the same time, binds us.
The sound of silence
There is an unrelenting beauty in the film’s silence; the kind of beauty that blankets its seemingly disparrate stories. But it is the silence that becomes the characters’ most reliable companion.
The old grandmother asks her daughter if she can hear the silence that has settled in her old antique home. We realize it may have been ages since it has seen more than a handful of guests. But for the aging grandmother, she prefers it this way. At least, she tells herself so. She finds a soothing solace in the silence, but in the far reaches of space, an astronaut is trapped in it.
The cadence of the astronaut’s routine is almost defeaning. We hear his breathing, his chewing, and ultimately, his isolation. He wakes each day to the vision of an infinite number of stars, but each of them are simply a depiction of his own isolation. While the former character concedes to it, the latter struggles against it.
When a tribesman slays the beast in which he seeks, he is left with but the sound of the evening and the unending waves. His isolation is complete, his fate his own doing. He is the astronaut. He is his own island.
Passion and poetry
Despite these moments of silence, “Islands” is punctuated by beautifully written verses of love, loss and memory. “Iniibig kita, at ubos na ako.” (I love you and I am spent.)
A faceless voice echoes across an empty home. It is older this time, but just as pained, and just as regretful. Just as the film begins in a confession, so does it end. A young man hides under the disguise of casual pick-up lines to woo his muse. But much like the confession that introduced the film, his intentions are the same, even if the language, the time, the lovers, have differed. We love because we should, because we are, because we have no choice.
But Alcazaren recognizes the struggle in love. He recognizes the impending fear and the ensuing loneliness in its consequences. For Alcazaren, the Islands that make up the geography of this unique cinematic experience cannot be found in the notes of any cartographer. They are mapped by a completely other means; by memory, by regret.
By the film’s end, Alcazaren grounds his story in reality. We discover the filmmaker whose profound loss is the force behind this creative vision, but it is his production assistant we follow. He carries on a candid conversation with yet another nameless muse.
“Bawal mag-isip ng malalim,” he challenges his real world muse. (You are prohibited from thinking too deeply.) They are mere inches apart, but there is an unfathomable distance between them.
When he confesses his love, we do not hear her answer. Because in love, isolation is total, inevitable but undeniably beautiful.
Watch the trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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