A Study on Cross-Class Romance: Sid & Aya (Not a Love Story)

It is precisely the parenthetical reminder in the title that compels me to pay closer attention to Irene Villamor’s Sid & Aya (Not A Love Story). The textual framing calls attention to itself. It is gimmicky, sure, but it is also an unveiling of directorial intent and an invitation for the viewers to examine what exactly makes this movie not a love story.

From this examination stems what I deem to be the film’s ambition. Sid & Aya centers on the familiar Rich Boy Poor Girl couple, but it swerves around the typical trajectory from Meet-cute to Happily Ever After. The film instead parses a familiar premise and plays around the tried-and-tested formula of the cross-class romance genre [1].

First we meet Sid, the rich boy.

“Sino ka bang gago ka?” asks Sid while staring at himself in the mirror. From the early sequences we learn a few things: that Sid has insomnia, that he is an ace stock broker in an investment company, and that he hates his co-workers (“oo, napakaraming kupal sa mundo”).

The opening line is therefore telling. Sid is complicit to the malicious intents of the industry in which he works, and he seems to be aware of it. In this regard Sid is still the archetypal Rich Boy, a cold-hearted douchebag in the same mold as Miggy Montenegro (A Very Special Love, 2008) or Eric Rodriguez III (Catch Me…I’m In Love, 2011).

The film however does not villainize Sid. The movie humanizes him using a familiar stencil (i.e. sad family back story), but it does so without completely uprooting his narrative from his social status.

Sid recognizes social inequality and verbalizes it (“one percent ng lahat ng tao sa mundo owns 50 percent of the world’s wealth”). But even after working his way up to secure a lavish lifestyle for himself, he still feels isolated in his fast-paced, opulent world.

And so we meet Aya.

Aya works at the coffee shop that Sid frequents during bouts of insomnia. Aya is a breadwinner who augments her income by playing pustahan with her friends, and she eventually starts keeping Sid company in exchange for an hourly wage.

For most of the film we only see Aya in places where she works — a café, a laundromat, an amusement park. Situating Aya in places of employment is consistent with working class alienation; proletarian identities are after all hinged on their physical contribution to economic production.

Aya’s diversion from the typical Poor Girl lies not so much in her crass and madiskarte attitude; it is the peripheral characters, or lack thereof, that set her apart from the usual screwball leads common in cross-class romcoms [2].

Unlike Laida Magtalas in A Very Special Love (2008), Aya is never surrounded by a loving family or a supportive trio of friends. Even Aya’s relationship with her co-workers is warm but transactional (i.e. they hold betting games and lend each other money). Aya’s Japayuki mom is also a far cry from the usual maternal figure like Florencia Carantes in You To Me Are Everything (2010) or Teresa in Forevermore (2002).

Ultimately it is Aya’s and Sid’s respective isolation that lays foundation to their connection.

Most cross-class stories establish the class conflict by drawing animosity between the two lead characters (see Meteor Garden, 2001 and Babe, I Love You, 2010). Sid & Aya however subverts this trend by skipping the magkagalit phase and instead initiating an immediate connection between the titular leads.

Sid and Aya’s transactional relationship blossoms through tired, sleepless nights when their mutual alienation is temporarily relieved by each other’s company. And unlike other movies that use the Rich vs Poor tension only as a premise, Sid & Aya consistently insists on the characters’ uneven financial dynamic by tracing their alienation and individual exhaustion to their respective social classes.

Aya’s loneliness is rooted to her Sisyphean struggle of providing for her family. Sid on the other hand has been struggling with insomnia, a disorder that is theorized to be particularly prevalent in a hyper-capitalist economy.

“It should be no surprise that there is an erosion of sleep now everywhere, given the immensity of what is at stake economically,” writes Jonathan Crary in Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (2013). This is exactly what we see in Sid & Aya as the film captures the consequences of ceaseless economic production to two young bodies [3].

But for all its brave statements on class, the movie unfortunately backpedals in the last act.

Towards the latter part of the film, the Black Swan Theory — “ang pangyayaring hindi inaasahang mangyari” — is applied to the characters’ individual experiences, even if this metaphor is typically invoked to describe systemic, large-scale occurrences. While the movie’s first half feels like there is a bigger story being told through the eponymous characters, the last act counters this by zooming further into the leads’ individualist concerns.

The last act focuses on clearing up personal issues (with Aya’s mom, with Sid’s Ninong), which to me only distracts from a potentially powerful conclusion that speaks against the systemic framework that curtails the blossoming of true love through economic and social frictions.

But Sid’s and Aya’s paths separate eventually and Sid closes the film with another voiceover. “I did not deserve her,” he says about Aya. He then directly addresses the audience and says, “Sana mangyari rin ‘to sa ‘yo ‘no? Tutal e lahat naman ng tao nasasaktan.”

This closing line is also telling. If we are to follow screenwriter John Truby’s inverted triangle method of scene building, we know that “the most important word or line of dialog [has to be] stated last” [4]. To therefore end the film with a line about love and chance and pain isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a clear contradiction to the title’s parenthetical claim.

Ultimately we get a safe finale.

The film still departs from the typical conclusion of Pinoy cross-class romance: there is no public confession of love, no chase scene at the airport, no dramatic reconciliation of any sort. Sid and Aya simply fail to pursue a relationship but we see them at peace with their fate. The ending to me is equal parts painful and heartwarming, and this may be as good as it gets for a movie that is produced by one of the country’s biggest cinema outfits.

Sid & Aya could have been braver in its discourse on class, no doubt, but it is otherwise a pleasant love story. And yes, that is my final answer: Sid & Aya is, for all intents and purposes, a well-told love story. #

[1] The cross-class romance genre that I discuss in this post is primarily confined to Filipino films and to the Rich Boy-Poor Girl dynamic. Teleseryes are more notorious for tackling cross-class archetypes, and Rich Girl-Poor Boy romances also exist (see Let the Love Begin, 2005 and Pagputi ng Uwak…Pag-itim ng Tagak, 1978). Sub-point: I am not aware of any cross-class stories that feature members of the LGBT as the leads.

[2] In the article “Wealth and/or Love: Class and Gender in the Cross-class Romance Films of the Great Depression”, sociology professor Stephen Sharot mentions the “two female types from the lower class: the virtuous heroine and the amoral social climber.” These types don’t necessarily apply to the women of contemporary Pinoy cross-class romance (I think), but they seem to fit the mold of disenfranchised women in teleseryes. A thought for later reading: compare and contrast the leads of Margarita (2007) and Rubi (2010) versus the barrio girls in hacienda-set teleseryes.

[3] Cigarettes and smoking are a motif in the first act of the film. When Sid challenges Aya to stop smoking, Aya retaliates by responding, “Bága ko ‘to. Ikaw, tao ‘yung kinákana mo.” Scenes and dialogs like this lead me to believe that the movie is deliberately drawing a grander message not only about class tension but also about the self-destructive mechanisms people employ in order to survive the demands of their everyday reality.

[4] “Think of a scene as an upside-down triangle,” writes Truby in The Anatomy of Story. “The beginning of the scene should frame what the whole scene is about. The scene should then funnel down to a single point, with the most important word or line of dialogue stated last.” After learning this I became extra attentive to the last line of dialog that punctuates the scenes of the movies I consume. Hmm.

A few more notes:

  • I wrote this post a long time ago. I recently revised and added some stuff, and I also tried to incorporate the footnotes to the actual piece but, like, you know, gets. #tinamad
  • The gif above is from the movie’s teaser on YouTube.
  • The featured image is from Windows on Worlds.

Have a happy Monday everyone! 🙂


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