Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Gina Pareño, Coco Martin, Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Kristoffer King
RunTime: 1 hr 30 mins
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Official Website: http://www.serbis-themovie.com/
Opening Day: 5 March 2009
A drama that follows the travails of the Pineda family in the Filipino city of Angeles. Bigamy, unwanted pregnancy, possible incest and bothersome skin irritations are all part of their daily challenges, but the real "star" of the show is an enormous, dilapidated movie theater that doubles as family business and living space. At one time a prestige establishment, the theater now runs porn double bills and serves as a meeting ground for hustlers of every conceivable persuasion. The film captures the sordid, fetid atmosphere, interweaving various family subplots with the comings and goings of customers, thieves and even a runaway goat while enveloping the viewer in a maelstrom of sound, noise and continuous motion.
There are films which make you want to visit a country and there are films, well, which make you think twice before forking out money to buy that air ticket. When Tony Leung strolled through the ruins of Ang Kor Wat in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000), this reviewer made sure that Cambodia would be one of the countries he had to visit within the next year. When Christian Bale stood high and mighty on the skyscrapers of Hong Kong in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), this reviewer made a point to visit the International Finance Centre when he visited the country.
In this Filipino film which takes place in a dilapidated movie theatre in the Philippines. Being an avid movie buff, this would have made me want to go out there immediately to experience the rustic charm of the cinema I’ve just seen on the big screen, but I thought about it. Twice.
First, the types of movies shown in this theatre are what we fondly call “adult movies”, where things get a little steamy, both on screen and off screen in the audience seats. Second, at the risk of sounding elitist, I don’t see myself appreciating such a genre. Third, the depiction of the world in this Brillante Mendoza directed movie isn’t exactly a bright and cheery one.
Set in the Filipino city of Angeles (go do some geographical research if you really have to), this film looks at all things dark and shady. The family in question faces problems like unwanted pregnancies, incest, court trials and all things shady. At the centre of all these troubles is a cinema which accommodates the family, as well as acting as their lifeline.
Talk about poverty porn.
The film creates a seedy and unappealing mood that makes you want to look away and never wanting to face issues brought up by the protagonists. The first thing that you notice is the distracting sound quality of the film – the hisses and noises are what you definitely won’t get in a standard Hollywood production. The characters are not likeable, from the grumpy grandmother, the aggressive mother, and the hordes of misbehaving children in the family. How do you like a kid who has sex with someone who’s possibly his own sibling? How do you like a bespectacled kid who peeks on couples making out? These will prove to be too exasperating for an average movie goer who just wants a nice night out at the movies.
The shaky cinematography may also make some viewers uncomfortable. The unflinching raw approach to lensing the film may have captured the sleazily sordid world where the characters live in, but this isn’t your typical date movie to make your partner feel good.
Having said that, the film succeeds in opening our eyes to a world we’ve never seen before, and probably will never want to live in. That’s probably the reason why it was nominated for a prestigious Golden Palm at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Me? I’d probably not be booking that air ticket to visit the porn theatre of the Philippines any time soon.
(The film may open windows to the seedy worlds you’ve never seen before, but be warned: it’s not an easy ride)
Review by John Li