Be­yond cathar­sis: a review of Re­speto

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Opinion - BY ARNOLD P. ALAMON

Is this what we have be­come as a na­tion? A peo­ple re­duced to the gut­ter moral­ity of sur­vival, haunted by the ghosts of our mor­bid past, and trapped in an end­less un­for­giv­ing cy­cle of vi­o­lence? These were the thoughts that raced through my mind as the end cred­its of the film “Re­speto” rolled and the house lights came on, abruptly putting an end to my rev­erie. Never had a movie achieve so much of a vis­ceral im­pact that it felt like I was dis­em­bow­eled and spent at the end of it - a tes­ta­ment to the lit­tle film’s dark but truth­ful heart.

It is an un­usual story in the first place, one that puts the spot­light on per­sis­tent but hid­den re­al­i­ties of the metropo­lis we would rather con­ve­niently ig­nore or for­get. It is only be­cause of the over­pow­er­ing stench of blood ris­ing from the pave­ment, to para­phrase a spread­ing graf­fiti, be­cause of the ris­ing body count of the gov­ern­ment-backed war on drugs that has so far vic­tim­ized thou­sands of petty drug push­ers and users, that we have come to no­tice the un­ham­pered of­fi­cially-sanc­tioned mur­ders in our midst.

We fol­low the char­ac­ter of Hen­drix, an as­pir­ing teenage rap­per to­gether with his two friends in one of those non­de­script ar­eas of ur­ban blight. They are prac­ti­cally or­phans and eke out a liv­ing on their own, their fam­i­lies non-ex­is­tent or in­con­se­quen­tial. The drug cul­ture does not oc­cupy the nar­ra­tive front and cen­ter but it is there in his sis­ter’s drug-deal­ing boyfriend for whom Hen­drix oc­ca­sion­ally de­liv­ers in ex­change for a com­mis­sion. No, this is not a feel good Mr. Hol­land’s Opus re­make nor is it a Pi­noy ver­sion of Stand and De­liver.

What is novel about the ap­proach in sto­ry­telling is that the movie un­rav­els to the au­di­ence as half a mu­si­cal and the other half as spo­ken-word po­etry. That view­ers barely no­tice this unique­ness is proof of how im­mer­sive the cel­lu­loid uni­verse the creators of the film was able to achieve.

We are first herded into a nar­ra­tive about a young teenage boy seek­ing re­spect in the un­der­ground hiphop cul­ture’s rap bat­tles. It has been a dis­as­trous foray for fame and re­spect un­til a botched rob­bery of a sec­ond-hand book­shop en­tan­gled Hen­drix with an age­ing poet who wields a dark past.

It is the en­counter and en­tan­gle­ment of the two that makes it pos­si­ble for the film to go be­yond just be­ing a com­ing-of-age movie or a hip-hop mu­si­cal for that mat­ter. In­stead, it be­comes a jour­ney into a soul of the na­tion in the age of Tokhang and Duterte.

The am­bi­tion and em­bed­ded the­o­ret­i­cal program of the film hews it closer to an Ishma or Brocka ac­tu­ally, and the sor­did end­ing fi­nally pro­vides the cin­e­matic cathar­sis that was de­prived of us by Brocka in his mas­ter­piece “Maynila sa Kuko ng Li­wanag”. Here, there is an ob­ject of the nec­es­sary so­cial vi­o­lence that must be re­leased, al­though one won­ders if this cathar­sis is enough.

So what is the state of the na­tion ac­cord­ing to the seers of Re­speto the movie? As stated above, we are a peo­ple re­duced to the gut­ter moral­ity of sur­vival, haunted by the ghosts of our mor­bid past, and trapped in an end­less un­for­giv­ing cy­cle of vi­o­lence.

If ‘Drix rep­re­sents the Filipino youth of to­day, then they are shal­low and lost not be­cause they are in­her­ently flawed, but be­cause the world they in­habit is with­out mean­ing. They have in­her­ited a soul­less world from the fail­ures of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and this in­cludes the im­punity and vi­o­lence that traces its ori­gins from the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship to its present form - one of the deft cin­e­matic achieve­ments that the film was able to ef­fort­lessly pull off. If they are not be­ing op­pressed and ex­ploited by fam­ily mem­bers that are sup­posed to take care of them, it is the state and its crooked agents that tar­get them for liq­ui­da­tion or write them off as col­lat­eral dam­age. His life has no fu­ture and the film de­picts this kind of fate for their en­tire gen­er­a­tion.

This is the same kind of dead-end fate that the el­der wise man and poet-in-re­tire­ment ac­tu­ally en­dured af­ter fall­ing vic­tim to the same kind of im­punity un­der the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship. Culling from ac­counts of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions dur­ing this time, the char­ac­ter “Doc” wit­nessed his son tor­tured and mur­dered by the Philippine Con­stab­u­lary to force him to squeal against his com­rades in the un­der­ground move­ment. His wife, un­able to deal with haunt­ing mur­ders killed her­self soon af­ter. Come to think of it, if lives and times were re­versed, ‘Drix and Doc can ac­tu­ally be the same per­son in the con­text of an un­chang­ing po­lit­i­cal re­cur­rence.

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