Serbis (Service) (2008)
Critic Consensus: This darkly comic family drama finds ways of being viscerally graphic and intellectually stimulating at the same time.
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Critic Reviews for Serbis (Service)
While it has its gag-inducing moments, director Brillante Mendoza's film about a three-generational family that lives in and operates a rundown porn theatre is more sweet than twisted.
Part-telenovela, part outlandish screwball comedy, part soft-porno, but completely without a road map, Serbis evokes Pedro Almodóvar, Tennessee Williams, and 1940s and '50s Hollywood.
Serbis has the feel of a documentary, but a documentary can't accomplish what "Serbis" does: Take us to a corner of the world where sex and regret are so intimately entwined.
Audience Reviews for Serbis (Service)
I'm not sure what director Brillante Mendoza was thinking. Maybe the intentions were honorable, focusing on graphic realism with an unflinching eye for detail, but the auteuristic style is small compensation for the utter lack of substance and motivation.
The setting is a run-down porn theater in the slums of Angeles (Philippines). Serbis takes us behind the scenes, from one amoral act to the next, exposing the poverty and hopelessness of those involved. Okay, I get it. If you go through the countryside turning over rocks you're bound to see a few creepy-crawly things. What else would one expect? The shortcomings of the characters seem to be the apex of the story. There's little else to latch on to. I found myself wanting the plot to go somewhere but it just doesn't. The technique is sound but, on the whole, the film is little more than tabloid cinema. Given Mendoza's reputation, I was completely disappointed.
[font=Century Gothic]"Serbis" is about family which is also the name of the dilapidated adult theater(bathrooms flood, goats invade, etc) in Manila that is owned by Flor(Gina Pareno) who is pursuring legal action against her husband that could net him at least two years in jail. Complicating this is her son planning to testify on his behalf . While most of the family helps out in one way or another, her daughter Nayda(Jacklyn Jose) manages the theater and sells tickets while her young son runs loose.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The theater shows pornography of a heterosexual inclination but almost all of the clientele are gay men who use the darkness to have sex away from a government that at the very least frowns upon such activity. To punctuate this, there is a religious procession towards the end.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]All of which is fine and good. If only there was more of substance, then "Serbis" might have truly had something going. Instead, there are too many shots going up and down staircases and a disturbing subplot about a boil. Next time, stop for a second and catch your breath.[/font]
I have to say that Brillante Mendoza's "Serbis" is slightly better than his more renowned(and at the same time, denounced) "Kinatay". In some ways, "Serbis'" cinematography, acting, and subplots were the collective product of what could be Brillante's personal vision of Philippine society and familial relations that has been distributed rationally to his other earlier films: "Tirador's" biting humor, "Kaleldo's" character interactions and mild sepia cinematography, the escalating darkness that his later film "Kinatay" has embarked on, and even "Masahista's" literal sexuality. The ensemble cast was also very impressive in their uncanny degree of suppressing any screen inhibitions, be it about showing their skin, or acting as a credible, functioning family while immersing themselves into the decaying backdrop of a filthy 'bold' theater. It was almost unbelievable for the whole cast to pull off such a film without going as far as the extremities Nagisa Oshima has reached and the cost of what cinematic taboo he had broken to show a sociopolitical allegory. Brillante Mendoza has also able to incorporate his usual fascination of religious traditions; imageries that might have been inserted just for the sake of it, or can also be visual antidotes to the sinful displays on his films. Notable performances were by Gina Pareno as the theater-inhabiting family's matriarch, and Julio Diaz as the awkwardly unknowing husband of Layda(played by Jaclyn Jose). It's just refreshing to see a film that has brought a pitiful place such as a decaying 'bomba' moviehouse into cinematic life(a place whose only common attribution is to "Imbestigador"), put it in the center of a neorealist drama, and let it's pathetic and dissident inhabitants dwell on the establishment's sleazy imperfections; an uncanny likeness to their own lives indeed.
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