Friday, September 05, 2008


SERBIS: X-Rated with a Gold Standard
by Reymundo Salao

Just like this movie, this review is x-rated; for adults only please. I usually get bored of erotic art films. But SERBIS really caught my attention because it was able to be included in this year's nominees for the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm), which is the most prestigious award given out at the Cannes Film Festival. And yes, it really was a very interesting film to watch.

SERBIS is an oftentimes grotesque but realistic view of a more nasty side of urban subculture, with a smut moviehouse as its main character, and the shady "things" that happen inside it. While the story may spotlight on the family running it, the moviehouse itself is the main character. Its architectural style shows that it used to be a place of high-brow cinematic events, its interior designs show a 60's or 70's era class. Its stair designs and the building sections connect in a stylish labyrinth fashion. And with the rotting and deterioration, the building becomes a perfect setting for a noir film.

The first scene shows a young lady standing beautifully naked in front of a mirror practicing the words "I love you" The first scene is blatant nudity, with nipples and pubic hair in the stark brightness of the scene. Symbolically, it seems that the first scene shows us what the external side of the movie is; just like the exteriors of the movie theater, we see the posters of alluring, sex-starved ladies, similarly showered with beauty, but as the film progresses, we see what is inside the movie theater; dilapidated interiors, filthy corners, male prostitutes and creepy perverts who patronize these shady movie theaters.

The entire movie is like a slice of life in this dark corner of urban society; of what happens in this moviehouse ironically named "Family" moviehouse, obviously assuming that it was indeed a family-friendly place in its heyday. In this dark place we see many things like male prostitutes offering handjob and blowjob services inside the theater, we see an immoral affair between a married woman and a young man, and we see how recklessly a kid becomes an innocent witness to all these ugly things.

Some of you might be afraid to watch this because of the "gay" scenes. But while there may be some oral sex scenes, these are darkened scenes and most of them are silhouette shots. You men will get your satisfaction when you see a sex scene with the lovely Mercedes Cabral and the glorious nude scene of the cute young lady (Roxanne Jordan) I stated earlier. I am tempted to think that foreigners love how we transform the ugly sides of our society into some form of art, what with Kubrador and Maximo Oliveros, which were awarded bountifully, turned our ugly corners of society into large canvasses of award-winning artistic expressions.

While Jaclyn Jose seems to be the main character of this movie, it is Gina Parreño who shines in her role here as the head matriarch of the family running the movie house business. It is interesting to note how she injects a subtle element of majestic grace in her role even though her character lives, not in a mansion, but in the same dilapidated moviehouse. It is because her role is a matriarch, a seemingly former Doña who used to own three moviehouses; two of which have now closed down due to bankruptcy. And even though her family is falling into outright poverty, she still focuses her attention on a seemingly futile and impractical case of adultery she filed against her husband.

SERBIS’ director Brillante "Dante" Mendoza whose credits include "Foster Child" and "Tirador" has once again crafted something that gives dignity to Philippine cinema. SERBIS is well-executed. Its seamlessness tells us that this is not a big studio picture (because here in the Philippines, ironically, the mark of a big studio movie is bad editing and awkward pacing) SERBIS is gritty, vulgar and artistic. Despite its grungy setting, it deserved to have been a Golden Palm nominee. This is not some kind of exploitative pornography that wraps itself in the alibi of “art film”, unlike other “erotic-art” films that do so. SERBIS is a peephole into a place that exists that some of us fear to explore. Come take a peek if you dare.

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