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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

entry arrow10:57 AM | Sally is a Quirky Girl

In a kinder world, you give a grade of A for effort. But the world is often exacting, and as much as I enjoyed, to a degree, Avid Liongoren’s Saving Sally (2016) [trailer here], it fails as a compelling piece of cinema for me. I was suitably entertained, but it never moved me.

Yes, we’ve heard the story of its 10-year inception — a story of an artistic struggle that manages to tug our hearts. Yes, the animation is stupendous and imaginative. Yes, we should marvel at the filmmakers’ ability to create magic out of a shoestring budget. But the story also bears much of what has become awkward, narrative-wise, since 2006. It’s much too twee for example in an age where “putang ina” has become presidential speech. Its sensibility is perfectly a throwback, especially to a time when the phenomenon of the “manic pixie dream girl” was a beloved cinematic trope, since then much-maligned. But I do give credit to the filmmakers for giving the type a narrative arc deeper than the usual superficial display of interesting quirks.

The girl in question is the titular Sally (played with exceeding charm by Rhian Ramos). Her best friend is the introverted comic book artist Marty (Enzo Marcos), who pines quietly for her, but has no courage whatsoever to reveal his real feelings. Excuses abound, you see, centering mostly on the fact that Sally’s adoptive parents are monstrous people who regularly abuse her and keep her in check with their rigorous rules and overbearing Christian piety. For Marty, Sally needs, well, saving … and the proper loving only he could give.

That Sally comes off as a quirky fashionista girl with a hunger for the bizarre and the unusual, and a talent for literal inventions, is one plot point that remains psychologically suspect — but I suspend my disbelief, of course. Because I want to like the movie. And I do, with some effort, and as long as I remain blind to the holes in the narrative, and a third act that seems completely unnecessary.

However, the fundamental unease that I felt over my immediate critical consideration of the film upon exiting the cinema was this: why did this have to be a mix of live action and animation? The animation didn’t feel integral to the story at all. It remained for me a filmmaking conceit that, while executed quite impressively, didn’t feel organic to the narrative. It would have been a completely different story had it been produced without any live-action. But we do follow characters who mostly remain human throughout, existing in a world that is a fantasy of illustration art — but the two planes intersect without a convincing explanation why this has to be so. In the most famous example of this technique — Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? — we do get a clear effort at worldling, that humans do in fact live alongside cartoon characters who mostly come from an adjacent “neighbourhood” called Toontown. The clear premise sets us to accept without question that humans and cartoons do interact in the frame of the film. I don’t believe for once Saving Sally’s “explanation” that the animated parts we see are merely constructs of Marty’s inventive imagination, his unique perspective and rendering of the much-too-real world around him. Because the animation does overwhelm the live-action in the space of the film, and no sane person could be so overwhelmingly consistent and unceasing in that rendition of the real to the cartoonish. (Unless you’re crazy, and you have a lola like Imelda.)

And also this: despite overwhelming much of the frame, the animation remains ironically “background material.” It is more or less glorified wallpaper for the live actors to play on. One could also fault the film for its use of English as the main mode for dialogue, even if particular scenes felt like they called for the use of the native language — but I feel I have nitpicked too much a product that has been made, for so long by its creatives with the best of intentions: to create an animated feature film with art that’s very impressive, given the legendary limitations the film’s publicity machine has earnestly profiled.

A for effort then. Mostly definitely a C for story. But also most definitely an A+ for the film’s brazenness to put a giant penis on screen.

[The film is not being screened in Dumaguete]


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