Philipino director Brillante Ma Mendoza finished editing his film Serbis just days before it was screened at the Cannes Festival as part of the Selection Officielle. It showed–or rather, it sounded, like it was a rush job. A rougher-than-necessary-cut was shown to the press corps including this writer. The street sounds completely overwhelmed the exterior shots (Serbis reads like a Sixties Bollywood movie set in stifling muggy weather without the music or the dance.
It’s striking how dated modern-day Philippines can look). And yet in spite of the rough soundtrack, Serbis won my heart with its lurid-yet-innocent depiction of family life which happens to take place in an unconventional local. Serbis is set in a run-down erotic theatre in the city of Angeles in the Phillipines run by The Pineda family. The theatre shows dated sexy double-feature films. The family has taken up actual residence in the old building as well. The matriarch Nanay Flor, her daughter Nayda, son-in-law Lando and adopted daughter Jewel take turns manning the ticket booth and the canteen. Her nephews Alan and Ronald are the billboard painter and projectionist, respectively.
Nanay Flor had filed a bigamy case against her estranged husband and is attending the court hearing today when, after a number of years, the decision will be finally handed down. It is within the context that the story unfolds. As the rest of the members go about their daily activities, we get a glimpse of how they suffer and deal with each other’s sins and vices—relational, economic or sexual. Preoccupied with their personal demons, the family is unmindful that inside the movie theater, another kind of business is going on between the “serbis” boys (male hustlers) and the gay patrons.
Brillante Ma Mendoza’s past films include Slingshot, Foster Child, Pantasya, The Professor, Summer Heat, and The Masseur have captured the attention of audiences internationally. Serbis has been an official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival.
Serbis will be getting a limited release in the U.S. on January 30th, 2009.