All is fair in love and war. When all is said and done, that’s the cherry to pick in Irene Villamor’s endearing new film, “Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)”. The parenthetical in the title is a white lie, in that the film is, partly, a love story. It isn’t so far removed from mapping the journey of two people pulled together by a shared yearning, as in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”, by sheer connection, as in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise”, and perhaps more frequently, by the undisrupted force of a cute-meet, in the way every other romance films unfold—the film, in fact, has all three elements. But its outright insistence as a non-love story is no gimmick; it is tightly held in the malleability of its narrative. “Sid & Aya” is a love story, but should you look past the surface, it’s also more than just.
Here, love doesn’t conquer all. It doesn’t fulfill its characters’ persons. Here, it isn’t the whole book. At best, it makes for a welcome little footnote. As humans, of course, we’re wired to make exceptions—that, after all, is the hook of romance. But for the people that make Villamor’s new film, such investments don’t always rake handsome returns, and that’s completely, perfectly, beautifully fine.
Sid (Dingdong Dantes) and Aya (Anne Curtis) got the memo. He is a stock trader, which makes it his duty to make educated guesses on disruptions in the market and burgeoning personal insights—in the cutthroat business of stock trading, he notes, “you are what you ride; who you fucking ride”—but not make friends. Orphaned young, Sid is skilled in the art of pragmatism. He doesn’t need friends. He doesn’t roll with anyone who isn’t of succinct value to his life or career. That makes his chance encounter with Aya, a modern-day racketeer, a slip in his cunning in spotting what Taleb would call “black swans”.
At the coffee shop where she works the wee hours, she taps on the windowpane, then whispers to him, jovially, “I love you,” the reflection of her face perfectly aligning with his. “I love you”, at that moment, is an empty phrase. It isn’t a declaration of love, but a deliverable. As it turns out, Aya has struck a bet with her co-workers; whoever among them gets to say “I love you” to Sid, gets 300 pesos. She wanted the money, so she put the work in. For Sid, this unabashed tenacity makes them kindred spirits—he’s not wrong, too: Aya is cunning, logical, and pragmatic—and out of curiosity, he offers to pay for her company. And moored to the recursive trappings of meager income and bigger ambition, Aya agrees.
That is the wick that kindles their connection afire—to them, their own Black Swans. Onward the film unfurls, and deeper the two, in no ambiguous terms, fall for each other. The time is nigh for someone tilled the soil for stories about chronically pragmatic lovers, and Villamor’s screenplay, which refracts a wickedly crooked perspective on romance, is simply a hit for my money. The lulls of warm conversations and fleeting encounters mount the two’s growing mutual affection, and for certain a great concern for the film, even forsaking some arcs in the process. Dingdong Dantes and Anne Curtis beam with boundless charm as the titular couple, each able to shed an empathic light into the tough realities they face.
Simmering just underneath the veil of romance is the film’s scrutiny of the dichotomy of class. Beyond the disparity between their respectively modest and comfortable means, star-crossed lovers aren’t exempt from the shackles of their socioeconomic standing, culture, and upbringing. Specifically, between Sid and Aya, though it’s doubtless that they are destined for one another, the two have very different priorities in life, and like real humans, they decide for their own person, not the idea of being together with another. Cue the music: it’s pragmatism!
As the film so lushly echoes in its skillfully lensed imagery and thoroughly observed insights, love does not conquer all. And that, at least to Sid and Aya, is perfectly fine.
Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)
2018 / Irene Villamor / Drama, Romance
Direction: Irene Villamor
Screenplay: Irene Villamor
Cast: Anne Curtis, Dingdong Dantes, Jobelle Salvador
It follows Sid who suffers from insomnia and meets Aya who he hires to accompany him in his sleepless nights.