Monsters in your love story
- Cristina Tantengco () - October 1, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Here in the Philippines, romantic movies mean missed connections, lots of crying, and staring longingly into the distance. The exceptions to this rule are few and far between; one inevitably gets the feeling that to see one romantic film is to see them all.

Saving Sally, however, is a different story.

For one thing, there are monsters. Not just any monsters, mind you: hand-drawn, 2D animated monsters that interact with the live action cast. The story revolves around Marty (Enzo Marcos), a normal, somewhat introverted guy who visualizes annoying people as such monsters; and Sally (Rhian Ramos), a spunky girl who isn’t afraid of bullies. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, he falls in love with her. But the more he gets to know Sally, the more Marty realizes that the brave girl herself might need more saving than she is willing to admit. Set in a world reminiscent of a storybook or graphic novel, Saving Sally is very different from your usual box office movie.

Sally is the brainchild of Charlene Sawit, a graduate of Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines who then branched into writing and is now working on her novel. I met her and Enzo last weekend: she is every bit as chatty and charming as you’d expect from the creator of such a whimsical film. And while Enzo has since shaved off Marty’s long hair, he still has the sense of chilled-out unfussiness that was key to his landing the role.

The two have been working on the film since its first incarnation in 2005 as a low-budget independent project, but Enzo came close to not

Whimsy and the wimp: Enzo Marcos plays the Michael Cera-like geek Marty, who, well, tries to save Sally with his earnestness.

getting the part at all. He had gotten drunk the night before the audition and woke up hung over, wanting to play football. It’s a good thing he didn’t miss it, because as he puts it, “It’s the funnest (sic) shoot I’ve ever done. We’d drink on set, have sushi and mushrooms — legal ones, by the way — it was fun.”

 And as Charlene says, “There was just so much of Enzo in Marty. He was Marty.” Male viewers will see a lot of themselves in Sally’s male lead. Marty is far from the broad-shouldered and smoldering Derek Ramsay-type hunks, but like Michael Cera, his appeal lies in that he is a normal guy: self-conscious and a bit shy, but charming in his own way.

However, what sets him apart from the gawky Cera mold (which, face it, is starting to get old) is that we get to see the world through his eyes, and that his vision is very unique. The monsters in the movie are actually how the artistically inclined Marty visualizes annoying people — he sees Sally’s boyfriend, for example, as a giant walking penis.

Charlene, who wrote the short story on which the film was based, shares the origins of Marty’s eclectic way of seeing things. “[Sometimes] I see people as monsters, too … there are all these bits of me and the people I know in the characters of Sally.”

Perhaps this is what makes Saving Sally’s characters feel so real. Some actresses lobbied hard to play Sally in the film’s second production. One girl even sent in photos of her own birthday cake decorated with the words “Happy Birthday Sally!”, while many others begged the team to consider them for the part, saying they wanted to play “a real girl.”

And what makes Sally so real? Well, unlike many romantic leads in the Philippine movie scene, her problems and interests are not limited to her love story arc. The trailer released on the film’s website suggests the plucky heroine has been physically abused.

Despite this, she isn’t your typical damsel in distress, either; a scene from the film’s first version available online shows Sally actually saving Marty from a bully by humiliating him in a very creative — not to mention public — way. And while Rhian Ramos is undoubtedly gorgeous, her character and film do not rely solely on her looks to charm Marty and the audience. Dressed in cargo pants and tee shirts, she seems more preoccupied with inventing gadgets and formulating grand plans. The message is clear: this girl has layers.

After the first filming of Saving Sally, the project fell into a slump. Charlene says, “It looked like it was going nowhere — like no-one was going to pick it up and it would never be finished … We were in limbo.” But as it turns out, their work caught the eye of Alain de la Mata, the French producer of films such as Innocence (2004) and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004). Alain flew to Manila and, with Charlene and Sally’s director Avid Liongoren, worked out a stronger course for the film.

In a way, it was a good thing that it took such a long time to complete Sally. “When you’re young, you think in stereotypes. But by rewriting it and refining it … the characters became real people, and the story became real,” says Charlene.

Indeed, a lot has happened since the Saving Sally project first began. Charlene has gone to England, come back, and has begun work on her novel. Meanwhile, Enzo’s band Severo has released a three-song EP entitled Patay Tayo Jan — something that, like Sally, took a long time in the works. “Avid and I used to joke around. I’d say “When’s your movie coming out?” and he’d say “When your album comes out.” So now my CD’s out and I’m waiting for Avid’s turn,” he says with a laugh.

The two agree that it’s better not to prematurely declare release dates — “We’ve been burned so much in the past. It’ll happen when it happens,” says Charlene. But they do have plans for when Sally premieres. Enzo says, “I’ll cry. I know it. I really will.” They also have an agreement to get absolutely smashed. “Avid doesn’t drink at all … he says he’ll only drink when Sally premieres,” adds Charlene.

While the unreleased movie with over 81,387 (and counting) fans has become and is often billed as the alternative to the usual romantic movie, Charlene admits that Sally was never written as a reaction or challenge to the status quo. “I never really thought of it that way. Sometimes, a writer just needs so get a story out … Originally, we just wanted to show it on a tarp for our friends in Cubao X, but it turned into this monster. It changed our lives,” she says.

When it does come out, viewers will have a lot to look forward to. It may be very different visually, but the material is definitely familiar. “A lot of it is a very usual love story — we even have a love triangle — but the executions of certain situations are different,” says Charlene. A common complaint of those who lose interest in love stories (myself included) is that they get predictable and take themselves too seriously.

With its 2D monsters, whimsical humor and out-of-the-box presentation, it just might be that Saving Sally has just the charm we’ve been looking for.

* * *

Visit the Saving Sally website (www.savingsally.com) for trailers, concept art, and behind the scenes pictures.

CHARLENE ENZO FILM MARTY MDASH SALLY SAVING SALLY
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