Serbis (film)

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Serbis Movie Poster
Directed by Brillante "Dante" Mendoza
Produced by Ferdie Lapuz
Written by Armando Lao
Starring Gina Pareño
Coco Martin
Jaclyn Jose
Music by Gian Gianan
Cinematography Odyssey Flores
Editing by Claire Villa-real
Release date(s) 2008
Running time 1 hour, 33 minutes, 29 seconds minutes
Country Flag of the PhilippinesPhilippines
Language English

Serbis is an independent film by Brillante Mendoza, starring Gina Pareño and RP’s prince of indie movies Coco Martin. The film is a story of men who offer sexual services inside a movie house. It was invited to the official competition of the 61st Cannes Festival in France and was regarded as the most controversial in Cannes for the year 2008.



A rural family decides to run a prostitute service based in a fake theater in Angeles, Pampanga. The theater shows dated sexy double-feature films. The old building also serves as the residence of the family. Nanay Flor serves as the matriarch of the movie house while her family serve as her employees. Her daughter Nayda, son-in-law Lando and adopted daughter Jewel take turns in manning the ticket booth and canteen. Her nephews Ronald and Alan also help in the family business as a projectionist and billboard painter respectively.

Nanay Flor files a bigamy case against her husband but loses the case and feels betrayed when her own son testifies in court in favor of his father. Alan, financially unprepared for marriage, feels burdened by the fact that his pregnant girlfriend wants him to marry her. Nayda is torn between her commitment to her husband and her attraction to her cousin Ronald.

Unknown to the family, aside from movies, there's another kind of business going on inside the theater. The movie house also serves as a den for "serbis" boys (male prostitutes) who offer sexual services to gay patrons for a price.



The film caused a stir in the Philippines with its unbearably loud ambient noise and its graphic and seemingly gratuitous depiction of sex and nudity. Submitted to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board for public exhibition in 2008, the movie survived with two major cuts to sex scenes and was rated an R18.

Such was the advance international buzz of the film that it was invited to compete at Cannes Film Festival, being the 3rd entry from the Philippines (following the films of movie great Lino Brocka, Jaguar and Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim. Its premiere there was marked by the walking out of several veteran film critics who protested Mendoza's version of "misery porn."

On 30 January 2009, the film was premiered in New York. Writing for the New York Times, its chief film critic Manohla Dargis described the film: "The heavenly bodies that populate our films bring their own pleasures ... alighting onscreen as if from a dream. But the bodies in [‘Serbis’], which received little love at the 2008 Cannes, are not heaven-sent, but neither are they puppets in a contrived nightmare. Rather, they lust, sweat, desire and struggle with the ferocious truth."


"Serbis, from the moment its opening credits takes the appearance of an overused reel before opening with the sight of a girl (Roxanne Jordan) completely naked in front of a mirror while whispering I love you’s in a seductive tone to its end where the “reel” burns at the moment wherein we are overhearing what turns out to be a negotiation between an old homosexual and a young bystander for sex services, is aiming at mixing reality and fiction and blurring the fine line between film viewing and voyeurism, the same way Tuhog examined the hurtful discrepancies of crossing that same line that divides life from film. What differentiates Serbis is that Mendoza’s film works best as an experience, which brings to mind the numerous walk-outs the film has elicited, which to my mind is a result of a lack of acceptance of this film’s goal of replicating the atmosphere in these dilapidated porn theaters that dot urban centers in the Philippines." – Francis Cruz, on his blog Lessons from the School of Inattention
"Acclaimed Filipino director Brillante Mendoza (Slingshot, The Masseur) is no stranger to his country's urgent and intertwining issues of poverty, class distinction and religion. If his earlier works had captured the raw and visceral quality of modern-day Manila slums by using cinéma-vérité, then Serbis sees Mendoza graduate to the allegorical realm of filmmaking. The frenetic hand-held camerawork that had become his hallmark has been reworked to carefully track the individuals dwelling within a dilapidated cinema house. As such, the sense of interior geography becomes as much a part of the film's character as the constant noise of the traffic outside. The cumulative result is a powerful, provocatively explicit and uncompromising portrayal of a Filipino family at its most desperate – a perfect metaphor for a country under so many economic, social and political upheavals." – Raymond Phathanavirangoon, in the blurb for the 2008 Toronto Film Festival exhibition
"Like Goodbye, Dragon Inn without the protective layer of nostalgia, Brillante Mendoza's Serbis crafts a self-contained world from a dilapidated movie house given more to gay cruising than cinema watching. But whereas the theater in Tsai Ming-liang's film still offers relatively straight fare (classic wuxia films) and the sexual encounters come free of cost, the programming at Serbis' theater has given over entirely to porn and, in the relentless everything-for-profit world of Mendoza's film, each blowjob necessitates an exchange of pesos." – Andrew Schenker of The House Next Door
"Director Brillante Mendoza's scattershot approach to storytelling is mostly a shocking mix of scatology and sexplicit titillation which leaves little to the imagination. The Filipino answer to "Slumdog Millionaire," this variation on the Third World squalor theme plays like a sordid peep show where the principals have precious little to offer in the way of redeeming qualities." – Slumdog Pornographer by Kam Williams
"Explicit fellatio, blocked toilets and a crudely exploded ass-cheek boil form some of the more unsavory elements of “Service,” Brillante Mendoza’s latest opus that revels in shock value ... Moving into pseudo-Tsai Ming-liang territory is unlikely to win the prolific helmer further converts ... Most scenes are practically drowning in noise as the cacophony of the streets continuously invades the cinema’s public and private areas." – Jay Weissberg of Variety Magazine
"Director Brillante Mendoza continues the neo-realist vein of Foster Child and Sling Shot in Serbis, but displays marked improvement – both the grunge aesthetic and film language now bear his personal handwriting. To this, he adds some bristling sexuality, both gay and straight ... Bottom Line: An engaging domestic drama and stylishly seamy homage to the gay cinema rendezvous." – Maggie Lee in Hollywood Reporter


  • Best Picture – Gawad Urian (2009)
  • Best Director – Brillante Mendoza – Gawad Urian (2009)
  • Best Production Design – Gawad Urian (2009)
  • Best Cinematography – Gawad Urian (2009)
  • Golden Palm – Brillante Mendoza (Nominated) – Cannes Film Festival (2008)


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