Serbis: Filipino Brillante Ma Mendoza’s Family Tale

Cannes Film Fest 2008 (In Competition)–Brillante Ma Mendoza’s “Serbis” world premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Fest and later played at the Toronto and New York Film Fests. Mendoza is the first Filipino director since Lino Brocka to have a film in competition in Cannes. Regent is releasing Serbis in L.A. and N.Y. and other select markets in January 2009.

“Serbis” centers on one large clan, the colorful Pineda family, which operates a run-down movie house in a city in the province that shows dated sexy double-feature films. Since the family has taken up actual residence in the old building as well, their whole life revolves around the business and its dubious customers.  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.

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.

When the tale begins, Nanay Flor had filed a bigamy case against her estranged husband.  On this fateful day, she is attending the court hearing and expects, after years of uncertainty, for the decision will be finally handed down.

As the rest of the members go about their daily activities, we get a glimpse of how they exist, suffer, and deal with each other’s sins and vices, and their tangled relationships be they social or sexual.

Alan, who is financially unprepared for marital responsibility, feels oppressed by his pregnant girlfriend, who expects marriage. Nayda, who entered marriage out of tradition, is torn between marital fidelity and her ambiguous attraction towards her cousin Ronald.

In the end, when Nanay Flor loses the case, feels betrayed not only by the court judge but also by her son whose testimony was unexpected.

Mendoza is a prolific director whose previous films, such as “Slingshot,” Foster Child,” “Pantasya,” “The Professor,” “Summer Heat,” and “The Masseur,” have played the global festival circuit.

His new film shows improvement in technical skills and narrative accessibility. Presented as a slice of life, the rather realistic text relies on natural lighting and sounds, often noise from the vibrant, traffic-jammed streets.  Due to its setting, the film contains a number of graphic sex scenes (such as oral sex).