A simple tale, charmingly told
It’s the reason the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) was created in the first place: to make room for quality Filipino films that otherwise could not compete, in terms of star power and technological wizardry, with Hollywood productions or the more commercial products churned out by the big local studios.
I’m talking about “Saving Sally,” a charming, coming-of-age romance that takes a daring approach to filmmaking by combining animation and live action. Even with its winning, quirky charms, though, I don’t think “Saving Sally” could have even survived a first-day opening if it were pitted against blockbusters or the more predictable crowd-pleasers. But in the relatively safe haven of the MMFF, bolstered by the advantages of a holiday break—plenty of free time, the Christmas bonus—a “small” film has a fighting chance to reach a wider, appreciative audience.
And I for one fervently wish the audience would give “Saving Sally” such a chance.
It springs from the simplest of impulses: to tell a love story about two young people who find love in a world where they, in many senses, don’t belong. Marty (Enzo Marcos) is an aspiring artist who creates comics “peopled” by monsters and superheroes, creating fanciful scenarios in his mind even as real-life monsters like school bullies pick on him. Making an entrance with a timely intervention—and a convenient anti-bully weapon—is Sally (Rhian Ramos who is a revelation here), who not only saves Marty but embarks on a tender friendship with the budding artist.
At first, it is Sally who seems to be the stronger, more confident leader in the relationship. She calls the shots, it seems. But in his own quiet, persevering way, Marty proves himself a capable hero, albeit not in the traditional sense. He “saves” Sally not so much from bullies or unfaithful boyfriends, as from herself and her own pain-filled family drama. They are two lost souls finding each other, filling each other’s emotional vacuums.
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At the start of the film, I began to grow impatient with director
Avid Liongoren’s insistence on confining Manila, the setting for this simple tale, to depiction through animation. But later, I realized that the city, in all its chaotic, messy reality, would have been too much of a distraction. What I thought at first was an attempt to “sanitize” the setting turned out to be an artistic decision so that our focus was fixed firmly on the living characters.
The choice for the setting of Sally’s home: an imposing mansion on top of a hill that curves upwards like a tidal wave, is likewise inspired. It invokes awe and trepidation, but also a sense of danger, of fragility.
And look out for the visual and verbal puns. The couple rendezvous in the neighborhood “Sandara Park,” for instance, and UP denizens (“this movie is so about UP,” my daughter commented) would recognize the “Zorro” character who roams the neighborhood and rushes to Sally’s defense, inspired, I am told, by a real crackpot who populates the Diliman campus.
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Based on a short story by Charlene Sawit, the film has been described as Liongoren’s “love letter” to fellow geeks and the small suburban environment they move around in. Perhaps that explains the team’s decision to have the dialog mostly in English, though peppered by street-wise Filipino.
It is also sprinkled with references to the work of other Pinoy comic artists and animators. My daughter and I thrilled to see a cover of the comic “Trese” on the wall of the publishing house’s director, while some of the comic monsters look familiar, having been spotted in other media.
Considering its troubled history – conceptualized in 2005 but halted many times due to funding constraints and the loss of the original female lead – “Saving Sally” remains almost too painfully innocent, creating a world where love literally does conquer all, and goodness prevails.
Which is why I wish nothing but the best—including an enduring stint in our theaters—for “Saving Sally,” if only for the sake of all geeks out there dreaming their impossible dreams, some of which have already come true for those behind this charming film.
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