Brillante Mendoza’s ‘SERBIS’ is playing at the ROYAL until May 28

by Leonard

If you didn’t already hear, Brillante Mendoza just won Best Director in Cannes for his newest film ‘Kinatay’. That’s pretty big time, considering his competition was Ang Lee, Pedro Almodovar, Jane Campion and Quentin Tarantino.

Actually, he was in Cannes last year too and also in Toronto with his film ‘Serbis’. If you missed it at last year’s TIFF, you have another chance to check out one of the rawest films to come out of Philippine Cinema in recent years — SERBIS is playing at the Royal Theatre on College until May 28.

Not for the faint of heart (read my TIFF review below), ‘Serbis’ is still a must-see. Plus, you’re not gonna find this at the pirated DVD stall beside all the Piolo Pascual movies. Do yourself a favour and watch it… and don’t feel the need to thank me/curse me out after.


Coco Martin in 'Serbis'

Service / Serbis

‘Serbis’ Review after the jump!

TIFF 08 Review Archive

Brillante Mendoza’s latest offering “Serbis” played the Toronto Film Festival this past week, shocking average white film nerds and unwary Pinoy Showbiz-hungry Titas alike with gratuitous on-camera sex, full frontal (and rear) nudity, prostitution and some incest thrown in there for good measure.

“Is that what it means?!?!” exclaimed the the shiny-bald American moviegoer in front of me in the line. “Yeah. Serbis. You know — like SERVICE,” said the Filipina woman, stressing the ‘V’ and then stating very plainly: “Prostitution.”

Judging on the aforementioned sexual content, it would be easy to relegate Mendoza’s latest festival entry as just another one of the cheap and trashy bold films that make up so much of the Filipino cinematic landscape, but that would be only scratching at the surface of the film’s true depth. In reality, the layers in ‘Serbis’ go as deep as the Philippines inherent problems.

The film takes place almost entirely inside a soft-porn theatre named ironically, and yet fittingly: Family. And this is what ‘Serbis’ focuses on — one family’s day-to-day struggle to survive everyday life in the Philippines, but even more so — the struggle of the women in this story to keep the family together.

The two main characters are played by Jaclyn Jose (you might remember her from Ang Pamana) and classic-era actress Gina Pareno, who play daughter and mother, respectively. Each woman is charged with keeping the rest of the family in check. Jose toils between the day-to-day operations of the theatre, two oversexed nephews, an inept husband and impressionable children not to mention the fragile ecosystem of the theatre’s inner-sanctum — teenage prostitutes and their admission-paying patrons, while Pareno fights her battle on a different front, defending her family’s honour and integrity in the face of moral breakdown and betrayal.

Despite solid performances from two of Filipino cinema’s grand dames, it’s probably the theatre itself that is the film’s real star. It’s a shadow of its former self, a ruin of once-great legacies with scars that even layer upon layer of new paint cannot conceal. The camera follows the characters up and down the stairs and into every nook and cranny and into the darkest abyss where the most taboo and forbidden acts are being committed in the dark, again ironically inside this theatre called “Family”.

So maybe that is what ‘Serbis’ is truly about: Family. How the Filipino family unit is threatened, how women are and have been the backbone of the Filipino family and have taken the brunt of the heavy burden in raising it and how a lifetime of ‘service’ to family too often ends up coming to a thankless and tragic end.

Is it sensational big-screen titillation meant to arouse controversy, protests and loins? The answer is YES, with a caveat. It is also a no-holds-barred commentary on a country that comes to terms with its present by sacrificing its future while refusing to learn from its past. Is it hard to watch? Yes. Should you watch it? Yes you should, because sometimes truth is hard to look in the eye.

In stepping back and looking at Mendoza’s dilapidated theatre as an allegory for the Philippines and its current state, the film’s title — ‘Serbis’ — takes on an alternate meaning and a heartbreaking significance.

The screenings most telling moment may well have been during the Q&A following the film, when an older Filipina immigrant who had been in Canada for the past 15 years stood up and asked, “Is this really happening in our country?”

Direk Brillante Mendoza nonchalantly replied almost as plainly as the woman in the line up, “Well… yes. It IS happening. That’s why I made this film.”

(l-r) Me and Direk Romeo on set with Direk Brillante Mendoza circa 2005

(l-r) Me and Direk Romeo on set with Direk Brillante Mendoza (standing) circa 2005

(Brillante Mendoza is the first director to be included at Cannes since Lino Brocka almost 20 years ago.

~ by Leonard on May 25, 2009.

One Response to “Brillante Mendoza’s ‘SERBIS’ is playing at the ROYAL until May 28”

  1. Philippines’ Brillante Mendoza Wins Best Director in 2009 Cannes Film Festival


    Best Director: Brillante Mendoza for “Kinatay”
    Imprimer The Best Director Prize was awarded to Brillante Mendoza for Kinatay.

    The Best Director Prize was awarded by Terry Gilliam to Brillante Mendoza for his film Kinatay:
    “First of all I would like to thank the selection committee, who are responsible for bringing my films here for the past three years. And now with an award for Best Director, I would like to thank the Jury. And of course I’d like to thank my producer; thank you for the trust and faith in my films. I’d like to thank also a very committed staff and crew. I’d like to share this award with my daughter, Angelica, who has always been my number one critic and to an actor I really respect, Coco Martin. Thank you all for embracing my kind of cinema.”

    Jury Prize and Best Director Prize (english version)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: