Years later, Treb Monteras II's Respeto will be considered as one of the most important movies to have come out of Cinemalaya 2017.
It's a landmark film in the same spirit as Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, a bright comedy-drama that sparked conversations about injustice and violence in an America divided by race, when it was released in 1989.
Respeto captures the harsh realities of young Filipinos who struggle to survive poverty, drug addiction, and extra-judicial killings in neglected communities. It's an honest depiction that should make viewers aware of these issues, so they will find ways to change them.
In the center of Respeto is Hendrix (played by Abra), an out-of-school teenager who spends his time hanging out in an empty cemetery with his friends, if he's not delivering drugs for his sister's live-in partner. Hendrix is aware of the hopelessness around him, so he wishes to upgrade his status via rap music. Rappers are seen as stars in his community, so he sees this as a way out.
What makes Hendrix easy to relate to is the brilliant portrayal of rap superstar Abra, who has the talent to make all the rap scenes believable. Abra is also inherently charming, so it is easy to warm up to his character, even when he resorts to violence.
You'll never look at Abra the same way again after watching Respeto, because he aces his first acting role.
Abra's co-actors are also as brilliant. Dido de la Paz is Doc, is a sympathetic old poet who keeps Hendrix under his wing. Chai Fonacier (aka Betchai) and Sylvester Bogadiong (aka P) keep things light and humorous. Looney and other rappers raise the film's street cred.
Respeto makes no effort to hide the muck and grime of the slums where Hendrix lives in. It can get dirty; Hendrix gets literal shit on his shirt at one point. But what's remarkable is how the film can depict the beauty in every scene. Some shots can even get devastingly beautiful, like when Doc relieves the nightmares of Martial Law.
Respeto is more than just an entertaining movie about rap music. It's an honest depiction of the cycle of oppression in Manila, the culture of impunity within the city's communities, and how its people find ways to free themselves via art and camaraderie.
Respeto has a lot of things to say and it deserves to be heard. Let's hope that it gets a wider audience and a commercial run in the future.
Ed's Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial staff.
Respeto, an indie film about the underground hip-hop scene earned seven major awards, including Best Film, at the 13th edition of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.
It was cited as Best Film for its “infectious, propulsive energy, its highly convincing cast of characters and very effective ensemble acting, its breathtaking, nearly epic sweep of the underside of Manila, its expert application of the resources of cinema to depict a teenager’s drive to rise above poverty and violence, its cogent melding of contemporary rap and traditional oral literature, and its sheer humanity and coruscating poetry.”
The film also won trophies for Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Cinematography (tied with Baconaua), Audience Choice Award, and the NETPAC Jury Prize Award.
It bagged the NETPAC Jury Prize Award “for tackling the complex issue of human rights violation across two generations, musically connected by the vibrant and socially conscious use of language.”
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NOTE: Respeto is being screened in cinemas nationwide starting September 20, the eve of the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law.