Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Gina Pareño, Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz
Plot: A drama that follows the travails of the Pineda family in the Filipino city of Angeles.
Awards: Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Rating: R21 for sexual content, nudity and language.
International Sales: Fortissimo Films
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
My views may have changed for this film, and a second viewing is warranted at the earliest opportunity.
From acclaimed Philippine director Brillante Mendoza, Serbis (or Service) is a film that exposes a side of society best left in dark and dirty places. Running at a compact ninety minutes, the film follows through the lives of the Pineda family in a single day from dawn till dusk.
What was once a bustling, profit-making cineplex screening family-oriented shows has through the decades degraded into a struggling, rundown porn palace that not only shows obscene films but is also a secret venue for soliciting sex.
Filmed on location in the city of Angeles, Serbis is an uncompromising look into a way of life that is almost incomprehensible. How does it feel to be born into a family who runs such a sordid business? Normal and natural, well that is judging by the way the family members go about their daily routine in an ignorance-is-bliss fashion.
The first shot of the film introduces a woman in her early twenties admiring herself in the mirror after a shower. We get to see deliberate shots of her breasts and pubic region as she dresses herself. With this, Mendoza raises the bar on graphic nudity so high that what follows seems tame in comparison.
Serbis is not meant to be repulsive, though it is quite frank in its portrayal of sex, masturbation and homosexuality. But in its heart, Mendoza’s film is nothing more than a glimpse of the troubles besieging a family: unplanned pregnancy, a cheating grandfather, a robbery, and even a sneaky goat that interrupts a porn screening cum orgy session.
Mendoza employs shaky photography for most scenes shot within the building compound, giving it a raw and edgy feel that when combine with the myriad of sounds captured from the hustle and bustle of the jam-packed street outside, constitutes a multi-sensory experience which somehow becomes increasingly tepid as the film progresses.
Mendoza also tends to indulge in ‘tracking photography’ that tails a character from point A to B (this can be several minutes long). While initially this gives viewers an interesting visual orientation of the building’s general blueprint, it becomes redundant and boring after some time.
Serbis is an eye-opener; it fails somehow because it does not plunge deeper to explore the psyche of such people whose lives revolve around sex and porn. The final scene in which a cigar burns up the picture to reveal the end credits is special, but it does not mask the film's general sense of mundanity.