Serbis (Service in English) is set in a dilapidated movie theatre in Manila. The former movie palace, which now shows dated adult films, is run by and serves as the home of three generations of the Pineda family. It is also one of the city’s centers of male prostitution.
The theatre barely provides enough income for the Pinedas to survive, so they turn a blind eye to the gay sex that takes place during screenings. If they were to prohibit the prostitutes from congregating there, it is unlikely their theatre would have much business at all. At least the “serbis boys” and the men who want to meet them pay for admission.
The Pineda family members also have their own, internal issues to focus their attention on. In particular, son Alan (the attractive Coco Martin) is overwhelmed by the unplanned pregnancy of his girlfriend, a painful boil in an inconvenient place, and the desire to escape his current, dead-end life.
Serbis is grim and often sexually explicit, but provides important insights into another culture as well as harsh economic realities. It is extremely well-directed by Brillante Mendoza (The Masseur, Tirador) as a reflection on the dual themes of family and service to others, in the various forms service can take.
Making its US debut after being the first Filipino film in 24 years selected in competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, Serbis is scheduled to open tomorrow in limited release.
UPDATE: Serbis (Service) is now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.