There seems to be a trend among local romantic dramas, which is to shine a light on working class romances. Never Not Love You tackled career and relationships, whereas Meet Me in St. Gallen, underneath the chance encounter, is also about finding career fulfillment. Irene Villamor, who also wrote and directed the latter film, returns with Sid & Aya, an insightful look into how modern relationships are governed by money, measured in transactions.
Warning: some spoilers ahead so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen the film yet.
Dingdong Dantes and Anne Curtis have an irresistible chemistry
Sid & Aya marks the first feature film pairing of Dingdong Dantes and Anne Curtis, and for a romantic drama to sell, it is paramount that these leads must have onscreen chemistry. Thankfully, Dantes’ driven and self-assured Sid fits Curtis’ Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype like a glove. But before you scream 500 Days of Summer, this film offers quite an insight on why depressed loners are drawn to MPDGs. Moreover, the banter between these two characters feels organic, the witty punchlines coming in like a freight train.
The cleverness of the script
The reason why Irene Villamor’s script feels breathtakingly fresh is that the writer/director knows when to withhold and reveal information. The film plays out like an elaborate Russian Doll, keeping audiences in the dark until the very end. The message of the movie is clear— people have become so obsessed with making money that ideal romantic relationships seem futile. Money and ambition are clearly identified as the hovering clouds over the characters, as shown through Sid’s upbringing to be a ruthless businessman, as well as Aya’s mindset that she has to provide for her family. Love only plays second fiddle. As Aya puts it, “pagod na akong magmahal ng mga taong kailangan kong mahalin.”
Chances are that most people, despite the overt advertisement that this is “not a love story,” flocked to the cinemas because they want to discover whether Sid and Aya fall in love and end up together. For the first half, this is exactly what the film delivers— the kilig, but Villamor pushes the envelope further because she reveals much more about her characters’ psyche, whether it’s Sid’s crippling depression, or Aya’s masked glee. Obviously, Villamor has a very important message to convey to her audience in the end, but to do that, she needs to get the audience hooked first.
No unnecessary back stories/ side plots
Most films have a tendency to be jam packed with so many subplots that the main story arc becomes diluted in the end. This is the reason why there is considerable abhorrence among some moviegoers, as far as the subject of mainstream cinema is concerned. We’ve seen movies with at least three endings, the sort where you’d be like “this movie ought to have ended 20 or 30 minutes ago.” So when a film like Sid & Aya, which has a very focused narrative, comes along, a discussion on genre filmmaking needs to be resuscitated.
Film buffs will easily spot some familiar scenes in Sid & Aya, and whether or not the references are intentional is anybody’s guess. There’s a silhouette scene on a top building floor that screams Fight Club. The Tokyo gentleman’s club scene and Aya walking on a busy street at the ending can arguably be from Mike Nichols’ Closer. The most prevalent and hard to ignore are the Lost in Translation allusions, starting with Aya’s white umbrella in the middle of a busy Tokyo intersection. It is easy to throw some words like “ripoff” or “copycat,” but believe us, Sid & Aya is a wholly different animal. We cannot fault the filmmaker for being a film buff herself. Even Tarantino once said that “I steal from every movie ever made.”
Pao Orendain, who also lensed Meet Me in St. Gallen, features some haunting silhouettes during the first half of the film, complementary to the story’s somber tone. The Tokyo club scene is also eclectically lit, while the daylight Japan scenes have a chilly, misty register. There is repeated use of mirrors, glass windows and other reflective surfaces, a technique which not only adds depth and dimension to a scene but also allows a peek into the inner workings of the characters.
Love in the age of capitalism
Comparisons with the Richard Gere-Julia Roberts starrer Pretty Woman, will be inevitable, but Sid & Aya contains elements that are distinctly Filipino, foremost of which is Aya’s aspiration to go overseas to provide for her family. The film also examines how money affects the dynamics of a relationship between a man and a woman, strangers at that, to the point that the line between business and personal becomes blurred. Which brings us to…
The epilogue can be interpreted many ways, but we’d like to believe that it is an imagined scenario, since the look of the characters have changed, as well as the resolution and aspect ratio. It is a question of “what if two people meet and get to liking each other, without money being in the way?” Of course, money will always be a factor in such a consumerist society like the Philippines, but what if it only played second fiddle to human connections? The epilogue is very important because it bookends the whirlwind cautionary tale of Sid and Aya, posting a solution to the film’s hypothesis that money can’t buy love.
All screenshots are taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH1Iu6-nV0A