A documentary-style drama about the day in the life of a seedy Manila porno theater run by a frazzled family. This is the first 35mm feature by newly prolific Filipino director Mendoza, a former production designer who only directed his first feature (on video) in 2005, at the age of 45, and has since cranked out six more. (I should learn a lesson from this guy. Every indie filmmaker should.)
Mendoza's direction is skillful and the milieu he depicts is at once fascinating, depressing, stifling and, above all, physically filthy. After watching Serbis - Tagalog for "service", referring to the offerings of the gay street hustlers who ply their trade inside the theater (which, ironically, only screens heterosexual porn) - some viewers may long for a bar of soap and a fresh change of clothes afterwards.
This is the sort of deliberately paced, slightly aimless international cinema that critics and festivals always go crazy for. While those films are often Emperor's New Clothes experiences for me, I still found Serbis compelling, partly because I had never seen a film from the Philippines before, but also because of the tantalizingly lurid subject matter.
I recommend the film to those who are curious to take a peek into one of the dingier corners of the world. And veteran actress Gina Pareño is great as the powerful matriarch of her otherwise listless clan. But I wouldn't consider Serbis a must-see.