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 Review of serbis

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Posts : 14
Join date : 2009-01-31

PostSubject: Review of serbis   Sun Feb 01, 2009 12:44 pm

Gentle, bawdy and at times rambunctiously, ticklishly rude, the Filipino movie “Serbis” opens with the camera ogling a naked woman preening before a mirror. “I love you,” she coos to her reflection, “I love you,” as the camera’s point of view drifts between her face and breasts. In most movies this scene might foretell a predictable exercise in exploitation cinema. But the talented director Brillante Ma. Mendoza is after something slyer and more thoughtful than easy nudity for his latest, a story about a dilapidated movie theater and the fractured family that is trying not to disintegrate further inside its derelict walls.

Like the family, the adults-only theater has fallen on hard times. Both are located in Angeles City, where the massage parlors were once filled by American military personnel from the nearby, now shuttered Clark Air Base, one of the largest installations of its kind. Mr. Mendoza — whose earlier movies include “Foster Child,” about a poor woman who earns money caring for foundlings headed for overseas homes — doesn’t fill in the socioeconomic backdrop, perhaps because his native audience doesn’t need it. Nor does he explain that abortion is illegal in his largely Roman Catholic country: he just offers up a pregnant woman bitterly weeping while her lover looks on in panic, and the family’s regal matriarch (Gina Pareño) damns them both.

Content to show rather than tell, Mr. Mendoza trains his roving camera on the family walking and running through the theater’s long halls and up and down its serpentine staircases. Among the most restless is Nayda (Jaclyn Jose), one of those besieged women whose good looks are being chipped away by everyday worries. Nayda doesn’t have much time to pause, much less rest, between chasing after her young son and tending to those customers who stop for a bite at the cafe next to the box office. Far less troublesome are the customers who venture inside, where, under the dimly flickering light of the movies, they unite amid lip smacks, moans, offers of “service” and mumbled haggling.

Mr. Mendoza isn’t the first filmmaker to set his camera loose in an old movie theater, a conceit that has been put to nostalgic and poetic use by the diverse likes of Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) and Tsai Ming-liang (“Goodbye, Dragon Inn”). He underlines the divide between the lives off screen and the shadows on screen every time a character lingers next to a colorfully gaudy poster for an attraction like “Frolic in the Water.” Yet the theater — incongruously named Family — functions as more than a metaphor for a crumbling world: it’s a business, a home, a playground and a refuge for the family and its gay clientele, who are unlikely to join the religious masses passing by the theater in the movie’s finale.

In “Serbis” politics isn’t a matter of slogans but of real bodies, which perhaps accounts for why it paradoxically unwinds in a movie theater. The heavenly bodies that populate our films bring their own pleasures, of course, alighting on screen as if from a dream. The bodies in this movie — which received little love at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival — are not heaven sent, but neither are they puppets in a cinematically contrived nightmare. Rather, they lust, sweat, desire and struggle with ferocious truth. In one scene a young man lances a boil on his rear with an empty bottle, a grotesquely funny affirmation of real life and real bodies at their most humble and humanly poignant. You might gag, but you definitely won’t forget it.

“Serbis” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Nudity, sexual pantomime and one spectacularly erupted furuncle.
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