I haven’t made an effort to watch any of the entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) lineup in the past few years. In between all the cash cows and the award baits, I just didn’t want to. I tried once with my dad, and I can’t even remember what that year was, nor what the film was about. This year – 2016! – there’s a different story.

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To say that this year’s MMFF lineup is controversial would be an understatement. Big companies and the masses they pull on a string made quite an uproar on the change of criteria the MTRCB used to screen the MMFF entries for this year. On the other hand, independent filmmakers and their supporters yelled out hooray.

I’m part of the latter group. I take the controversy this year’s festival brought as a good thing. Finally! Finally, we are moving forward.

The independent film scene has been booming over the years. And yet, mainstream Filipino cinema is still constrained to worn-out love stories and brainless comedies. For the first time in decades, there is a documentary in the festival’s lineup! I haven’t seen it, but I will when I have the time.

How I envy those who still treat these days as holiday vacation. I’m back to work (I never left!) and am left with only one alternative – sneak in a film before I have to go to the office.

Thank goodness for my close proximity to a local mall. I was able to catch the first showing of Saving Sally today. It’s on the top of my MMFF must-watch list, and I’m glad I took the time to see it.

My problem with the past MMFF’s was the entries they were showing were either cash cows with no plot, or immensely dark and serious films they snuck in just to say that the entire festival was not just a payday for the country’s already established media corporations. And Shake, Rattle & Roll. You can’t have an MMFF without a Shake, Rattle & Roll. I’ve lost count how many there have been.

I’m not going to bash on these films. They all have their merits, but they lack something that I believe all works of art should have. Heart.

Art is best when it tells a story. When it simply tells a story. There are no other agendas. They are not after the paycheck, nor the recognition. They just want to share something.

It was said that Saving Sally was made within the span of more than a decade. It had to be reshot, recast and redone over and over again, and I just have to say – all of their hard work was surely worth it.

From the very start, the film made audiences aware that it was a very typical love story unfolding in front of them. In this day and age, it is impossible to do away with stereotypes and clichés. Although I refuse to believe it, in one way or another, every story’s already been told. The only way to go about is to tell a story differently.

What I was reminded of when the animation began to blend in with the live action was the early days of Walt Disney when he put together cartoons and people. We weren’t exactly brought to a different world, but we were allowed to see the world differently.

Basically, Marty and Sally are the classic pair of best friends. They’re weird in their own ways, they have a secret language going between them, and Marty’s in love with Sally. Like most halves of a best-friend-in-love-with-his-or-her-best-friend pair, Marty’s too chicken to admit it. In Filipino, we call that word torpe.

And yet, he does everything for her. When she gets a boyfriend – just when he was about to admit his feelings for her! – he serves as their messenger to get past her ultra-strict parents. Again, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s maybe something we’ve even seen for ourselves. Admit it, we’ve all been there.

And that’s the thing. When we go through challenges and difficulties in life, it feels like such a grand spectacle to all of us, but what we go through are mostly mundane everyday tribulations. Remember that boy you liked in high school? Just one wrong word from him, and you felt like the whole world was ending.

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That was how Marty made us feel all throughout the film, and he did it so flawlessly with his illustrations and the animations the filmmakers supplied us with. I loved it.

Here I go with what I didn’t like about the film, though.

When Marty was drunk in N(D/Pr)ick’s car, he called him out for dancing with another girl at a club. Maybe it was just TJ Trinidad’s acting, but I really believed N(D/Pr)ick when he said he would never do that to Sally. I wanted it to go to that direction. I prayed to the heavens that they would eventually fall out because the age difference wasn’t working for them. But no, Marty’s interpretation of N(D/Pr)ick was accurate. He was a dick, and a prick.

Adding in Sally’s abusive parents added another layer to her character. However, they didn’t do much with her parents. Why were they abusive? They can’t just be abusive. There has to be a reason. For the purposes of this story, though, they were just abusive. Perhaps its something the filmmakers could no longer delve into with the timeframe that they had, but the deeper layer it added was a particularly thin one given that the abuse she suffers is not rooted in something realer than what it was.

I loved how Marty’s unwitting confession played out. They went to college. Lost touch. Found new people to be around, new people to love. It was so real. It felt so real, watching them live lives separate from one another’s. THAT’S HOW LIFE IS. I don’t even notice when people who used to mean so much to me pass by anymore. It’s not because they don’t mean anything to me anymore, it’s just that I have a different life now, and so do they. I simply passed them by, as life has passed and is passing all of us by.

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I’m not the biggest fan of when they got back together, but a film like this had to have a happy, satisfying ending. It was. The rocket? I loved that. I knew Sally wasn’t a damsel in distress! I’ll spare this post from my misgivings about the title. At the end of a day, it was a nice way to end their story.

It is the small things in life that makes it worthwhile. That smile from the woman you love? A heartwarming moment with your parents? These are priceless. In the same vein, it was the small things that really made this film. It was these as well that made me love it.

I would definitely love to go to Sandara Park one day. I loved that reference the filmmakers snuck in. I loved the almost faceless but very alive monsters that roamed the city along with Marty and Sally, though I do wish they had more purpose. (Only one character had a human and monster form. What is the distinction? Why was one security guard in human form? Why was everyone else cartoon monsters?)

I loved this film. It made me remember what it was like to be young and in love, to be hopeful. It made me feel all fuzzy inside.

Saving Sally will not win any major awards, but it’s got a special place in my heart, as well as the hearts of many other satisfied viewers just like me. I encourage everyone to give this – and all the other MMFF entries this year – a chance. Let’s make mainstream Filipino cinema great again. Let’s make it real, honest. Let’s make it touch lives for more than just a few laughs. Next up on my to-watch list, Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank 2: #ForeversNotEnough.

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