IF NOT EASILY DISCERNED in its title, Third World Romance depicts romantic love against socioeconomic odds. As was the case in Jade Castro’s 2007 film, Endo, the film makes the case that, like contractual work in the Philippines, romance is elusive and — punishingly — ephemeral. It wouldn’t be outlandish to expect it to eventually feel so awash with soured cynicism, but under Dwein Baltazar’s helm, the film successfully threads the line between making red-eyed social remarks and tickling you pink with ‘kilig.’ It’s curt but thoughtful. It’s sober but not too straight-faced.
Being a Black Sheep rom-com, it assumes a Star Cinema prerequisite of starting with a meet-cute: Bri, a headstrong young woman (Charlie Dizon), and Alvin, a happy-go-lucky guy (Carlo Aquino), meet in a queue for government aid during the pandemic. When the local ‘barangay‘ drives away with more than a lion’s share of the relief provisions, Bri starts chasing after the truck with Alvin, noting that it’s not theft if it’s meant for them in the first place. “Kapag mahirap ka, dapat matapang ka,” she adds. (“If you’re poor, you have to be brave.”)
So begins Bri and Alvin’s partnership. For what Third World Romance is trying to say, it’s crucial that Bri and Alvin are partners first before they are lovers. Less like when Harry met Sally, and more like when Bonnie went with Clyde, the film touches on something fundamental about romantic relationships: When the odds are (unfairly) stacked against us, will you stand behind me to shake up those odds? When injustices begin to happen, how loudly will you say no?
That’s what sets Baltazar’s vision apart from other Filipino films about the marginalized and disenfranchised. It doesn’t concern itself with telling us what we already know; instead, it puts its characters in such a light that they feel real, dignified, and righteous of what little agency they can still exercise. The film lovingly makes space to celebrate these small freedoms and finds heart and humor in the spaces where there aren’t. In Baltazar’s third world, those freedoms are worth holding onto.
Third World Romance
2023 | Drama, Romance | dir. Dwein Baltazar
An outspoken cashier and laidback grocery bagger navigate the path to being happy despite the challenges of their blue-collared living in a world where nothing comes for free.