Friday, August 11, 2017

CINEMALAYA 2017: Review of RESPETO: Profane Yet Poetic

August 11, 2017

Despite its unassuming single-word title, this film is getting all the raves from this year's crop of feature films in the Cinemalaya film festival. I simply needed to buy a ticket to go watch it even if it meant ditching a previously-bought ticket to a less talked-about film. The venue (CCP Little Theater) was fully packed. Even the reserved row for CCP House Staff was full, such that the ushers also allowed other CCP staff to sit in the row reserved for jurors. Considering that this was the 12:30 screening on a Thursday, this attendance was impressive.

Hendrix is a young man from the tough slums of Pandacan. He lived with his sister Connie and her drug-pusher boyfriend Mando, who asks him to deliver his "goods". One day, Hendrix went to join a rap battle league match, choked and lost money big time. In order to pay Mando back the money he lost, Hendrix decided to break into and rob a bookshop owned by an old man they called Doc.

However, the robbery was foiled. Hendrix, together with his friends and partners in crime Payaso and Betchai, had to repair the damage they caused in the store. While working, Hendrix discovers from Doc a whole new form of poetry and the power of words. Meanwhile the constant threat of the drug menace, gang violence and crooked cops remain a reality around him. 

This film brings its audience right smack in the middle of a violent slum, as what a typical Brillante Mendoza film would do. We see fly-infested garbage dumps, demolitions countered with stink bombs, corpses in the waterway, drug deals, gang fights, cops on the take, sleazy bars and whores -- the works.

However, the big difference of "Respeto" was that its intensity was driven by its powerful musical soundtrack (by Jay Oliver Durias) of pulsating beats and hardcore, graphic, curse-ridden rapping. With a cast led by real-life rappers like Abra and Loonie, we expected no less. Those rap battle scenes were heady and exhilarating, with those sharp insults delivered articulately with cool yet angry speed.

This film does not hide its politics. The name of the present president and the controversial burial of a previous president can be heard plainly from "news reports" throughout. The full impact of these little suggestive soundbites will prominently come to fore in the third act when a violent episode from the Martial Law days gets recalled and relived. 

The technical aspects of this indie film were outstanding as led by diector Treb Monteras II from a script by Njel de Mesa and Monteras himself. The cinematography by Ike Avellana, the editing of Lawrence Ang, the sound work by Corinne de San Jose and production design by Popo Diaz all contribute amply to create this palpable milieu of violence and creativity.

Abra (Raymond Abracosa in real life) has a boyish charm that served him well in his lead role as Hendrix. He is a natural actor, very raw. Despite being one of the pioneers of fliptop rap battles and a bonafide local rap superstar, Abra actually gets humiliated a lot in this film, even in the rap arena itself, and he portrayed these difficult scenes with effective restraint. 

Veteran theater actor Dido de la Paz provides perfect contrast as Doc, an old man with poems of his own to write, and nightmares of his own to battle. Loonie (Marlon Peroramas in real life) possessed that gangster look which made him a gritty antagonistic threat as Breezy G. Ybes Bagadiong and Chai Fonacier provide able support as Hendrix's loyal friends Payaso and Betchai. Brian Arda and Thea Yrastorza show tough love as Mando and Connie. Kate Alejandrino was a tragic beauty as Hendrix's crush Candy. Nor Domingo was chilling as a very bad cop.

The foul language that peppers this film may be coarse and hard to take for many ears, but that is the language of the streets nowadays, like it or not. Director Monteras told his story with grit and fluidity, turning the profane into poetry. This film is a cut way above the others in its category in this festival this year -- a must-see, a must-experience piece of cinema. If you only have time to see one film during this Cinemalaya festival, make it this one. 9/10. 

1 comment:

  1. Wala po bang link pra mapanood nming mga ofw salamat...