‘Our Island of the Mangrove Moons‘ is a 2023 Filipino drama film written and directed by Anton Juan. The film follows the close-knit native dwellers of the mangrove island Suyac as they resist an encroaching foreign threat. The film is notable for featuring mostly the local Suyac residents as its actors. Immersive and visually poetic, the film weaves the spirit of tradition seamlessly in its fabric.
Suyac is a remote Filipino island where fishing is the main livelihood of its people. Told in a slice of life format, the film takes its time getting audiences to know Suyac’s inhabitants. You meet an assortment of characters just living their day-to-day lives. At first, there is no solid connective tissue between each subplots, other than they’re living in the same village. It almost feels like an anthology of these lives. Occasionally, everyone does converge together beautifully: for a wedding, village choir group, and their eventual get-together to defend the island. A young couple, Celia and Delfin, represent the cycle of life through their progressing relationship from childhood friends to married couple. Their story will culminate in a meaningful, if bittersweet, resolution. For being mostly untrained actors, the whole cast gives adequate acting performances. The film truly highlights the alchemy of ensemble performances rather than some specific roles.
Visually, the film has picturesque cinematography filled with vibrant colors. With its masterful use of lighting and color palette, you can really feel the tropical heat emanating off the screen. The dynamic cameraworks capture the humble but vivid life in the small fishing village. Shot on location, it manages to capture the authentic texture of Suyac: thatched roofs, humble cottages, rickety boats with chipped paint, mangrove enclave, emerald sea, the townsfolk’s colorful outfits and streets. The film just bursts with life.
Writer-director Anton Juan really deserves kudos for his sharp instincts. He did a great job directing the locals in a way that is both natural and captivating. As the writer, he turns the mundanity of everyday life into cinematic poetry. Gossiping housewives, playful teenagers, parents bantering with their kids over breakfast, the men fishing and lounging on their boats – these might seem trivial at first glance. But put together, people and their mundanity are the culture, the essence of what needs to be preserved. Through lighthearted comedy and heartwarming scenes of solidarity among the villagers, the script slowly endears audiences to each and every one on the island. So, when the second half inevitably builds the fear and anxiety surrounding the arrival of pirates, it hits like a tsunami.
Watching the film is a refreshing respite from the usual decadent fantasy offered by the Filipino film and TV industry. Instead of glamorous Eurasian stars, this film stars natives – the faces of real ordinary Pinoys – who don’t get depicted on screen often. A great stride in inclusivity indeed. There is also an unspoken subtext regarding the “pirates” that threaten the islanders’ livelihoods. The film’s hint about fishermen with bigger vessels who wade into their water should be a pretty big clue. A quick search would clue you in to the real-world territorial dispute that the country is going through with their neighbor. This makes the film’s message about preserving their roots and defending their land all the more poignant.