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Serbis is unpolished and provocative and I can see why the French adore it.

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I celebrated Independence Day with a double feature at the French Film Festival in Manila where Serbis by Brilliante Mendoza (who just won Best Director at Cannes for Kinatay) and Independencia by Raya Martin (who just received a standing ovation also at Cannes) were screened one after another. To be honest, Shangri-la (the mall, not the hotel) is not my favorite place in the world, with its treacherous parking building, awkward layout, and ho-hum selection of high-end retailers. It is, however, my favorite place to watch a movie because the theaters are nice–the seats are comfy, the acoustics are amazing, and the air conditioning is always just the right temperature. So I drove through an empty town, from Malate to Ortigas, looking forward to seeing both films for the first time.

Thank goodness I had the gumption to ask for a pass (thanks to the folks at SPOT!) because tickets for Serbis ran out in less than an hour. And the line for Independencia–screening scheduled for 8pm–started at 4 o'clock. But to credit the organizers, everything started on time and Direk Dante looking trim and rather trendy in black, walked into a full house for his opening remarks. He mentioned that his controversial Kinatay might screen at UP or the CCP. (Hopefully, both.)

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Serbis (his Cannes entry last year) is the story of a typically dysfunctional Filipino family whose lives revolve around a seedy run-down porn theater in small town Pampanga. It's the opposite of idyllic, really, this gritty melodrama is kind of sleazy and exotic at the same time. On occasion, it made me want to hurl. (There's a scene involving a bottle and a boil on Coco Martin's butt cheek. Ugh.) The old theater is a great location and the production design (three cheers for Ben Padero, forever my set crush) with lots of old posters, clogged up bathrooms, and hanging labada made me quite uncomfortable. The dizzying camera work of director of photography Odyssey Flores conveys all too well the crowded chaos, the dirt, the cheap miseries of the poor–and even if you can't smell it, you know it reeks of urine. And I just love watching Gina Pareño, who plays the embittered matriarch Flor with her gorgeous bones and withered old lady hands. She's so fierce. I can see why the French adore it like sweaty, stinky cheese. Serbis is unpolished (even crass, if you want) and provocative but the thing is–if you get a chance, you should go and see for yourself. Images from www.serbis-themovie.com. To read Ria's previous blog posts, click here. To read other blogs, click here.

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