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Checking Into the Dragon Inn

MOVIE REVIEW
Serbis (2008)

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Regent Releasing

"Serbis," the latest film from director Brillante Mendoza carves out a day in the life of a sprawling, dysfunctional family living in the city of Angeles in the Philipines. The film barely steps into the streets, however; the action takes place solely within the movie theater where the Flor clan lives and works. Once a family destination, the theater now shows adult films and caters to locals who use it as a place to buy the "services" of young male hustlers.

The family is mostly unfazed by the unsavory goings-on in the theater. The family members are preoccupied with keeping the place running, as decrepit as it is, and coping with their own personal problems. In addition to painting the walls, mopping up the filthy, flooded bathrooms, and running the meager snack bar, Nayda (Jacklyn Jose) attempts to deal with the calamities of the household: Her mother is in court accusing her father of adultery while her nephew has gotten his girlfriend pregnant. The shaky camera follows Nayda as she winds her way upstairs and downstairs, through the crumbling theater. Soon we know the layout as intimately as if it was our childhood home.

While "Serbis" has been called "controversial" and "scandalous," ostensibly due to the graphic sexual scenes, the strength of the acting and the core of the story keep the film from feeling at all gratuitous. Mr. Mendoza does not delve into any sort of sentimentality, but there is a deep sense of sadness and frustration that permeates the film like a frenetic, color-saturated version of "The Last Picture Show." It's a tough story, but beautifully shot and acted, and bolstered ultimately by a few small rays of hope for its beleaguered characters.

SERBIS

Opens on Jan. 30 in Manhattan.

Directed by Brillante Ma. Mendoza; written by Armando Lao, based on a story by Mr. Lao and Boots Agbayani Pastor; director of photography, Odyssey Flores; edited by Claire Villa-Real; music by Gian Gianan; production design, Benjamin Padero and Carlo Tabije; produced by Ferdinand Lapuz; released by Regent Releasing. In Tagalog, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Gina Pareño (Nanay Flor), Jaclyn Jose (Nayda), Julio Diaz (Lando), Coco Martin (Alan), Kristofer King (Ronald), Dan Alvaro (Jerome), Mercedes Cabral (Merly) and Roxanne Jordan (Jewel).

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