To my knowledge, Serbis is the first film to equate third-world life in the late capitalist era to squatting in a rundown porn palace. Mike Judge, who predicted in Idiocracy that Starbucks will one day sell handjobs, would feel thoroughly validated to see the goings on in the Family Theater, the last of a Filipino theater chain run by a family that’s as defunct as its business. The movie house, showing softcore double bills, amounts to a fence for patrons seeking sex among a battalion of teenage hos and gigolos waiting in the aisles. Theater owner Nanay (Gina Parneo), a proud but put-upon Joan Crawford-type matriarch, is busy battling her husband in divorce court, leaving her employees biding their time in the theater as they await how the breakup will affect their jobs. For the most part, they sit around shooting the shit while lounging in a maze-like complex of rooms and corridors within the dilapidated grandeur of the theater. Mendoza manages to make their dead time feel alive with serpentine camera movements a la Paul Morrissey, scrutinizing both the peeling paint on the walls and the texture of people’s skin (most memorably a boil on one man’s ass that’s the size of a quarter). Mendoza’s intimate focus on people’s bodies, down to the last private inch, doesn’t so much objectify them as reflect their self-objectification, fetishizing and fussing over their only personal assets in an impoverished economy of lust. When Nanay finally shows up, she tries her best to keep her employees in line, admonishing her projectionist for getting an on-the-job blowjob from a transsexual who’s set up shop in the theater. Nanay’s efforts to enforce professionalism amount to spitting in a sea of illicit sex roiling under the silver screen, interrupted only when a stray goat charges into the screening room. Absurdly comic and harrowingly explicit, Serbis feels too surreal and conceptual to be taken as docu-verisimilitude, but it needn’t settle for such conventions when every frame is alive, breathing dank sweat and sighing desperation. This house of sin and cinema runs by its own rules.
- 90 min
- Brillante Mendoza
- Armando Lao, Boots Agbayani Pastor
- Gina Pareño, Dan Alvaro, Mercedes Cabral, Julio Diaz, Bobby Jerome Go, Roxanne Jordan, Jacklyn Jose, Kristoffer King, Coco Martin
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