Jilel: The Calling of the Shell is another original Marshallese by Microwave Films (you might remember Zori or The Sound of Crickets at Night from them, as they’ve been reviewed on Rogue Cinema in the past). Jilel has much in common with these former films – from similar camera shots to just a bit of over-preachiness – yet much like the previous two, it is also charming and heartwarming. Jilel is a sweet story that showcases the beauty and talents of the Marshall Islands and it’s people.
Jilel: The Calling of the Shell is the story of Molina, a young Marshallese girl who is confronted for the first time with the idea that her island—her beloved homeland—is vanishing because of the rising seas caused by world-wide global warming and how she turns the tide of doom. When Molina’s grandmother dies, Molina is left to take care of a jilel – a shell that is a family heirloom and said to hold great power. Not realizing it’s importance, her older brother takes the shell to sell it at a local store for cigarette money. However, once out of Molina’s hands, the jilel starts wreaking havoc not only on her brother’s life but also on anyone who comes in contact with. Will the jilel find it’s way home? Jilel: The Calling of the Shell is a global warming fairy tale about the importance of knowledge, respect and preservation.
The landscape of the film is stunning – from the ocean waves to the painted sky to the colorful shacks along the island. Jilel stars local people, who are (for the most part) surprisingly good. Samson in particular stood out as the comic relief. Yes, parts of the film temporarily take on the quality of a homemade video, but Jilel always picks itself back up from there. The story is it’s strongest aspect, however. Deceptively simple, it makes for a powerful allegory about respecting Mother Earth and the damage that’s been done to Her. Equally powerful is the spoken word at the end of the film by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner called “Tell Them” – as much as I enjoyed Jilel, “Tell Them” was my favorite part.
Jilel is highly recommended viewing – not just a fairy tale or cautionary tale, it showcases the beauty of a partially forgotten people and land. Ancient customs are woven throughout the film, creating their own kind of magic. And that’s what this film is – magic.