Rap music is a behemoth and has been a uniting force for four and a half decades now. And with every new culture it touches, it infuses itself within that culture’s baggage. Treb Monteras II shows that phenomenon in his hard hitting movie Respeto. It is the highlight of this year’s TIFF Next Wave.
Hendrix (Abra) and his best friend Betchai (Chai Fonacier) ingratiate themselves in Metro Manila’s tough battle rap scene. That involves entrance fees to those clubs, which he has to obtain by any means necessary. They just happen to hit the wrong establishment- a second hand bookstore. Its owner, Doc (Dido de la Paz) decides that instead of jail, these kids have to fix what they destroyed.
Hendrix and Doc’s unlikely friendship benefits not just both of them but the audience watching them. And listening to them speak Tagalog reminds me of world cinema’s greatest gift – reacquainting audiences in the diaspora of their own language and its forms. Doc represents proper Tagalog while Hendrix represents the new, forgetting the original but trying to forge something new.
Monteras’ script astutely plays with that conflict, as both switch from verse to prose, from having arguments to helping each other out. Their friendship is a complex one, as both try to understand each other. Monteras isn’t afraid to show his characters’ unlikable sides – Doc being a pedant – but even argues that one character can learn from the other’s flaws.
Respeto is storytelling at its most exemplary because in its heart are two great characters. That’s especially true for Doc, who has experience one painful era in Philippine history only for his reluctant protege to experience another. Some critics have cast it as a melodrama. But it’s vulnerability and sometimes, defenselessness, feels honest especially in this most trying of times.