By Ratziel San Juan
“I know you wanted mayhem, war, chaos… Isn’t that what love is all about?”
Every last frame was a labor of love. Each scene contained gags and easter eggs which lent a nice finishing touch to the graphic novel motif.
This was the story that the film’s martyr of a protagonist, fittingly named Marty, wanted to tell.
Incidentally, it summarized the decade-long battle fought by director Avid Liongoren and his determined crew to finish this passion project.
Marty could dream about saving the world, or leaving his mark out there. After all, he had that rare artistic skill that can leave a genuine impact.
The cause he chooses to fight for is Sally.
A Lesson In Fantasy
Aside from its format–wherein live action meets animation–Saving Sally sang a different ideological tune from the rest of the MMFF pack.
Most of the other films tried to say something about Philippine society, presenting themes catering to the population’s needs. Seklusyon commented on religion, Sunday Beauty Queen revealed the plight of Filipina domestic helpers in Hong Kong, Oro relived the struggles of the four small-scale miners who were murdered in 2014.
To its credit, Saving Sally attempted to depict child abuse through clever visual metaphors. Sally’s authoritarian parents cast monstrous shadows, offering a glimpse of their nature behind closed doors.
This message was regrettably buried due to the weight and higher priority given to the male gaze.
When Marty landed an opportunity to make it in the published comic industry, there was no fulfilment because Sally was not with him.
The willingness of our protagonist to shoulder Sally’s burden further cemented her role as a manic pixie dream girl who existed solely to affirm Marty’s happiness.
Described as a “weirdo na medyo nerd,” Sally’s essence served more as a plot device for Marty to react to instead of a story worth telling on its own.
She has all these steampunk contraptions at her disposal, yet utilized them for nothing more than chores.
A heroine in distress, Sally’s paradox was that she has to be rescued even though she was perfectly capable of holding her own, only so the film can move forward.
Saving Sally is not the most progressive film around, as it perfectly mirrors the existing colonial, bourgeois, and feudal culture in the Philippines.
We see the world through the lens of moral dichotomy. Your neighbor is either a human or a monster, and must be branded as such.
Like Marty, we fall for those who consume the same things, be it television shows, books, comics, movies, etc.
We even treat people as objects, getting jealous when they become someone else’s “possession”.
Nonetheless, Saving Sally can not be faulted alone for the narrative it wished to tell.
The plot itself holds no pretensions. It’s marketed as a typical love story the same as Vince and Kath and James, or your standard Star Cinema flick.
Sue the filmmakers for having feelings.
Anyhow, the magic does not lie in the foreground where an immature tale unfolds, but in the background where the drawn set comes to life.
Prepare to be dazzled by lush landscapes, wacky character animations, and unique monster designs which bear testimony to our gifted home-grown artists.
While not having the box office power or social relevance other entries could claim to have, Saving Sally offered a real glimpse into Philippine cinema’s potential had the local film industry been developed so that our talented professionals would opt to stay.
Filipino animators have been making rounds in the global film industry, having made names for themselves in giant companies like Disney and Pixar.
Saving Sally proved that you do not have to go very far or have a huge studio backing in order to be world class. It made the most of its strengths as an independent film and rightfully earned its spot in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival.
It defied expectations of being a budget Scott Pilgrim or Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The production design and visual effects are instantly recognizable as its own, and should not invite comparison from other’s works.
Despite its almost entirely English script, its visual storytelling is unmistakably Filipino. The screen was full of nostalgic fuel for geeky guys and girls, with tons of cultural references only Filipinos can relate to.
MMFF is not the end. Philippine economic circumstances may not have been on Liongoren’s side, but if the word of mouth generated by the film meant anything, he and his crew have a long, flourishing career ahead of them.
Call it burgis, but Saving Sally has the artistic and technical firepower to show Pinoys what our filmmakers are made of.
Image from Rappler.com.