The film immediately opens in an underground rap battle scene. Smoky, dimly lit, a wild, cheering crowd. The scene is exploding with creativity. We find ourselves suddenly caught in a freestyle spontaneous rap battle. Filipino cussing and mocking; words that slam, and shame, and slap the face of the opponent delivered in uninterrupted brilliance. You are instantly hooked—and you’re not even a fan of hip-hop.
“Respeto,” one of the main competition entries in this year’s Cinemalaya Film Festival, is not about the hip-hop culture of rap—but it’s merely a backdrop for social realism and pain. The central character is young Hendrix (real-life rapper Abra), whose existence is a tragedy. Stuck in poverty and surrounded by drugs and violence in and out of his Pandacan home, his only sanctuary is rapping. Words. Poetry.
Hendrix escapes to underground rap battles, even if he has to use other people’s money, in an attempt to showcase his talent and at least earn some respect. Some form of validation. To redeem himself from his wretched existence.
With Hendrix’s desperate attempt to exercise his passion and earn some dignity, he and his friends, Payaso (Ybes Bagadiong) and Betchai (Chai Fonacier), commit a crime and find themselves sentenced to work for Doc (a fiercely terrific Dido dela Paz, “Graceland”), an old man who keeps a second-hand bookstore. But Doc, we find out, is more than just a shopkeeper. And he becomes a strong presence in young Hendrix’ relentless pursuit for respect.
The movie has an undercurrent of politics, but it’s exquisitely subtle, never imposing. But in the heart of this excellent film is simply the pain of reality—just surrounded with brilliant, intoxicating poetry that define and dissect life. And as life beats up Hendrix, pummels him to the ground, you feel his injury, his silent anguish, and you are moved by the helplessness and hope in his words.
Directed by Treb Monteras II (who directs music videos), with an intelligent script by Monteras and multi-Palanca Award winning writer Njel de Mesa, “Respeto” is rich, emotionally profound, intellectually stimulating, and well-acted (except for the exaggerated, over-the-top performance of Thea Yrastorza, who plays Hendrix’s sister). Sometimes, however, the amount of swearing in conversations is too excessive to be natural.
The smart editing, the near perfect camerawork, and the beats enhance the emotional resonance of every significant moment.
The film is a strong contender for this year’s Best Picture, most probably competing only with the other festival favorite “Kiko Boksingero.” You’d be a fool to miss “Respeto,” especially if you love art and poetry.
4.5 out of 5 stars
UPDATE: Respeto‘s commercial run premiers on September 20, 2017 in cinemas nationwide.
Catch “Respeto” in any of the following Ayala Malls Cinemas: Glorietta 4, Greenbelt 1, TriNoma, Fairview Terraces, U.P. Town Center, and now in Pampanga at Marquee Mall until August 13. For schedule and tickets, visit www.sureseats.com. You may also check the Cinemalaya Facebook page.