Toronto Reel Asian Fest: On Edralin’s ISLANDS and Sethi’s 7 DAYS

by Jacqueline Valencia

First of all, I’d like to commend the Toronto Reel Asian Festival for making this festival accessible to all. It helps reviewers and audiences like me, to be part of a very important cultural event during a harrowing time. I would like to see accessibility this way extended in post-pandemic times. Not only does it benefit the disabled or others unable to get to the theatre, but it opens up film festivals to more diverse audiences.

On Martin Edralin’s Islands

My favorite films deal with the mundane reality of our every day and reveal that the little things are quite extraordinary. In Islands, Martin Edralin tells the tale of Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas), a shy middle-aged Filipino man who takes care of his elderly parents while working as a janitor. His mother suddenly passes and Joshua must deal with the consequences of caring for his father by himself.

There are a few other characters in the film, including Joshua’s brother, who’s married and has a family of his own. Integral to the story is a cousin Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco), who’s come to visit after being a caretaker in Kuwait. She offers her help and, in turn, awakens Joshua’s repressed need for a connection.

The strength of Islands is in its cast’s understated performances and the films hyper-focus on the simple things in this family’s lives. The mother has never taught her son how to cook like she does, therefore we are treated to Joshua’s failed attempts to cook and his quiet recognition of learning these skills from Marisol. Endearing and harrowing moments of caring for an elder who was a shining light for the family, are presented in a way that highlights either the humor or the heartbreak of the situation.

I absolutely adore this film. It leaves you with a surprising feeling of hope coming outside of adversity.

On Roshan Sethi’s 7 Days

Rita (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Ravi (Karan Soni) are thrown together on a pre-arranged date. Only this is all happening at the beginning of the pandemic. Soon the two find themselves stuck with each other for seven days as the first major Covid-19 lockdown occurs.

Ravi is a shy nerd who follows the rules and tries to be traditional. Rita is the opposite, appeasing her mother by going on pre-arranged dates so she can live rent free without anyone in her business. Things go topsy-turvy as the two get to know their vast differences. However, the time together has them bonding, and it’s not just when a heavy case of Covid-19 hits Rita.

7 Days is charming and engages the audience in a time that has happened to all of us. How many have been locked down together indoors for days and months now? I would guess for some even two years or more depending on the individual situation. While the emphasis is on the background of pre-arranged marriage/dating in Indian culture, it’s also a nice thought piece on survival in crises as a means of exposing inner truths for connection. Leads, Viswanathan and Soni, play up both the drama and nuanced comedy in their situation, highlighting that in times of adversity, there is always hope.

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