One of the most controversial films in this year's Cannes Film Festival, we caught the Filipino movie "Serbis" this afternoon at the New York Film Festival.
Directed by Dante 'Brillante' Mendoza, "Serbis" centers around the disturbing, tragic and sometimes beautiful (though not often) stories in a family-owned Filipino porn theater. NYFF writes:
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. Clearly 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.
This is pretty much spot-on. Raw and like a live nerve, "Serbis" (sexual service) features a lot of uncompromising graphic and explicit sex, both straight and gay, surrounded by an atmosphere of sordid sexuality and squalor and family relations, both tender and loving and filled with bitterness, resent and more importantly, history. "Serbis" is hard to watch at times both visually and emotionally. The poverty and the hardship these people endure is heartbreaking, their familial struggles devastating and some of the skintrade scenes with transexuals and all sorts of raw sex make it almost like an X-Rated "Cinema Paradiso."
The Hollywood Reporter echoes some of our thoughts. "Taking place mostly in a porno theater ironically, yet fittingly, named Family, "Serbis" is part homage to cinema, part intimate domestic drama that vividly details the tangled relations and all-too human frailties of an extended family running a theater in the provincial Philippines."
But Brillante's film is magnetic and alive with a turbulent soundtracks of street sounds and a kinetic camera that is constantly in fluid motion. We're still wrapping out heads around an exact grade [B+?], but we'd definitely have to say thumbs up. More when we get a chance, but that wraps it up for NYFF and we'd have to say it's probably the best film festival we've been to in ages with a fantastic, international and eclectic slate, so cheers to their programmers.