In a letter to Brilliante Mendoza:
SERBIS is extraordinary! - Sean Penn (Cannes 2008 Jury President)
Extraordinay indeed! SERBIS is a leading edge Filipino art film.
SERBIS is about a family run-down porno movie house in Pampanga. The family has taken up residence in the cinema as well. The matriarch of the family had filed a case against her estranged husband and is attending the court hearing today when, after a number of years, the decision will be finally handed down. It is within this context that the story unfolds. As the rest of the members go about their daily activities, we get a glimpse of how they suffer and deal with each other’s sins and vices - relational, economic or sexual.
SERBIS is the first Filipino film (since 1984) to qualify in the Cannes Film Festival (last one was Lino Brocka's "Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim").
Just like his past films, Foster Child and Tirador, Brillante Mendoza placed aside the film plot and focused on the how the character acts and reacts to certain situations. For a normal film goer...this film will not make sense at all. But for people who are in tune to reading a person's emotions and psyche, this film will be of interest.
A man preparing tapsilog, a goat running inside a theater, a guy cleaning the bathroom, people having sex inside the cinema, a girl naked saying "i love you" repeatedly in a mirror, a boil popped with a bottle of coke. Doesn't make a story, isn't it? But if you place it in the context of how the character developed throughout the film, these scenes will be of value to you.
Again, this film is not for everyone.
Slice of Life - that's Brillante's strength. He will place you in the scene like a voyeur. It's like him saying, "Just watch them. See what they'll do next." Just let it flow through and the effect of the film will be felt in the end...you'll just miss all the characters you've watched! You will not be able to explain why, but you know for sure you got hooked (unconciously).
Cinematography for SERBIS was brilliant. The color of the film will make you feel uncomfortable in your seat. You'll feel the heat the characters are feeling in the cinema. But the sound was irritating...ambient louder than dialogues. And the most irritating thing of all...the crowd around the scene who kept on looking towards the camera!
Acting...SUPERB! Nothing more I could say.
Watch out for the ending. It is....uhm, better not tell.
I'm not surprised as well that some critics lambasted the film in Cannes. Some even walked out while saying the movie was so gross. Oh yes, it is gross. But we must understand that they presented a microcosm of the Philippines in the film. I believe that the film was made for Filipinos to be awakened, rather for foreigners to be informed.
My interpretation: the movie house is our country, the Philippines. People inside the movie house are whoring around...involving themselves in corruption, drugs, vices and sex. In the end: someone decided to just leave the porn house, another one decided to paint over graffitis which reminds her of old memories, another one decided to stay and live with the condition.
What kind of Filipino are you?