Most people consider the standard for a good film one that would be instantly recommended to many to watch. Such a criteria, however, can only be applied to commercially well-made films, which have ensure they get a larger return of investment. Hence, why independent films will never find commercial success. At a younger age, I would have wished for the indie industry to rise and reach a bigger audience. But when you grow older, experience more sadness, betrayal, and frustrations, you turn to entertainment for some sense of escapism or something that will give hope of a happy ending. Having been a Wong Kar Wai fan since high school, I can compare what his not-so-happy-together (yes, pun intended) films meant to me as a teenager who only had movies to make her sad–to me, now or 2 years ago, when life material is what made me feel awful for certain long periods of time. You grow older, get frustrated w/life, and then understand why independent films only reach a certain audience. At one point, you stop looking for reality–because that’s all you have to face everyday.
Brillante Mendoza’s Serbis (Service) is DEFINITELY what most people don’t face or seek on a daily basis. The movie runs through a day in the life of the Pineda family, who lives in and through their run-down movie house in Angeles. Their movie house shows sexy double-feature films, and is also a meeting place for gay prostitutes to give their services. The story revolves around all members living there: matriarch Nanay Flor, who is battling a bigamy case against her husband, her daugher Nayda who is a nursing graduate managing the theatre, and her son-in-law Lando who takes care of the restaurant on its ground floor. Also living with them is Nayda and Lando’s son, Nanay Flor’s adopted daughter Jewel, and nephews Alan and Ronald, who work as the billboard painter and projectionist respectively. Surrounding their daily conflicts include the theatre not making enough money, Alan’s unwanted pregnancy with his girlfriend, Nayda’s unusual attraction to Ronald, and Nayda’s son desensitized to the gay prostitutes services given in the theatre.
The almost abandoned theatre is the first character one notices. As the camera follows Nayda calling the rest of the family in their separate, far apart rooms, the unhygienic clutter, unkept wall paint, ‘bawal mag(insert verb here)’ signs , and street noise makes the viewer feel, hear, and smell the “Family” theatre (yes, that’s its name). Despite the unfamiliarity of such an environment, the people who live there have made it home, bearing with the inconveniences and simply fixing what they can to go on living. Unfortunately, their other troubles which transcend physical repair are either ignored or given up on. The movie simply shows, and never tells, leaving the theatre and the shady happenings to tell each family member’s story.
With every pun intended, Serbis is a brilliant piece of art in all aspects. Despite the gross details of the theatre and the people in it, he manages to film them into pieces of art. But in the movie’s case, it is not aesthetic art but rather art that aims to highlight the attitudes which cripple our Filipino society.
If you’re looking for something different to watch, then go and find yourself a copy of Serbis. But most scenes are not for the light hearted or extremely conservative. Although you don’t walk out feeling awesome about life, it definitely makes you wonder if there’s any hope left for the Filipino. The answer, is still up to you.