CinemaOne 2013 Review: Whammy Alcazaren's ISLANDS Has All the Awkwardness, Charm, and Honesty of a Love Poem

CinemaOne 2013 Review: Whammy Alcazaren's ISLANDS Has All the Awkwardness, Charm, and Honesty of a Love Poem
The easiest thing to do is to either stop at faulting or praising Whammy Alcazaren's ambition in mounting Islands, a deeply personal meditation on the complexities of loving. The film is hardly about the director's ambition. It is more about his humility in communicating how imperfect he is as a person in love. The film, despite its visual elegance, has the affecting awkwardness of a juvenile poem. Like a poem, it is replete with obvious metaphors, from the solitary spacemen to the despondent hunter, that pertain to one nagging idea: the inability to communicate love.

Its stanzas are all beautifully composed. They are fragile sequences, all carefully designed to evoke a somber mood. In a forest, a hunter longs for the love of a princess he can never have. In space, two astronauts suffer the most profound of loneliness despite each other's company. In a quiet house, a widow suffers through infrequent visits of her migrating daughter and grandson.

The three storylines, separated by time and space, are linked through signals and gestures. The grandson plays with a toy spaceship while his elders talk about the weight of quietness. He becomes the sole witness of two individuals bursting with love for each other but unable to declare it. An astronaut sings a familiar pop song out of a memory of his past, which is curiously our present. It breaks the languor of the film. It also makes the spaceman human, suddenly turning the last life in the universe into one of us.

The astronaut hurts himself just to remember emotions. The hunter hurts others to evoke emotions. He sees a dinosaur caught in his trap, and proceeds to kill it, before succumbing again to pains of alienation. The hunter's princess weeps for him. Garbed in a wedding gown, she laments to the sea that took her lover away from her. The astronaut, newly landed on her planet, consoles her.

The episodes' connections are at once apparent and ephemeral. They work like figures of speech, adding layers to verses. At the moment where the connection becomes real, when the spaceman finally bridges to another lonely soul, Alcazaren breaks his deceit, revealing the fiction that masks his truth. The director of the film within the film, intriguingly played by Peque Gallaga, releases words that have been aching to be released. That an entire cosmos was created to add eloquence to the simplest of words reveals Alcazaren's impulse as a filmmaker.

Love is never uncomplicated. It should never be. Islands veils love's complications with such immaculate beauty. It is not only about the carefully crafted imagery that the film indulges in. It is not about the poems within the poem. It is not about the film within the film, whose eventual reveal exposes, in cinematic real-time, the awkwardness of loving from the distance and absence of words. It is definitely not about its distinct parts, which essentially are all disparate gestures and mysterious codes that obscure the need of verbalizing love.

Islands is about the inability to express directly what is felt. It is about the empty spaces, the wasted eras, the torturous silence that all result from needlessly caged emotions. It is about the boy and the girl talking about everything except love when love is everything they want to talk about.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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