Friday, February 20, 2009



Serbis Competed for Palme d'Or at 2008 Cannes Film Festival, director Brillante Mendoza's new film "Serbis" (Philippines/France 2008, in Tagalog, 93 min.) tells a struggling Filipino family's miserable story.

In an inner city in Philippines next to noisy streets, a run-down adult movie theater called "Family" is not only the home for the extended Pineda family, but also the hustling ground for rent boys. The film's title "Serbis" means "service" in Tagalog, referring to sexual service the hustlers are providing inside the adult theater. The endless battle to keep the "family" business afloat and to resolve the conflicts among family members become daily routines inside the theater, and they consume away everybody's life, hopes, and dreams.

Like Brillante Mendoza's previous films ("Slingshot," "Foster Child," and "The Masseur"), the hand held camera follows the characters running up and down the theater to witness everything raw and uncensored. It is amazingly effective. The film makes me feel like that I am living with these characters — inside the smelly theater, enduring the unbearably heat, suppressing or unleashing the desire, coping with the desperation, and being suffocated by the horrible environment. I want to escape from this "Family" theater as much as the film's characters.


Apparently, the film has plenty shockers. I call them shockers because I don't see a clear connection between their existence and the storytelling. I am surprised by the very long opening credit (with the weird sound track) to begin with. Then I see the pain in the butt — a boil. After many more events, it's the end of the film...

"Serbis" opens on Friday, February 20, at Landmark's Lumiere Theatre in San Francisco.

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