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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

entry arrow11:57 PM | Is Serbis Really That Bad?

I want to give Brillante Mendoza's film the benefit of doubt until I see it, but the reviews coming in from Cannes are really, really horrible.

Here are the latest reviews. Kino-Zeit, a German paper, declares it has no chance for the Palme d'Or. Spiegel's Lars-Olav Beier calls it exploitative. And Kim Voynar, blogging for Cinematical, walked out of the theater, utterly disgusted. Best to put in everything, verbatim:

The other night, James and I walked out of our first film at Cannes, Brilliante Mendoza's Serbis. Actually, this is the first time I've ever walked out before the end of a film at a festival; generally, I feel it's my job to watch films here, the good, the bad and the ugly, and so I sit through them, however wretched they may be. But not this time. It's too bad, really, because Serbis is the first Filipino film to ever play in competition in Cannes and I was hoping to like it, but ... ugh.

The film opens with a scene of total gratuitous nudity -- a young Filipino girl, just out of the shower, preening in front of a mirror and practicing saying "I love you" in what she thinks is a sexy way. And that scene would have been just fine like that, without the voyeuristic panning down to breasts and pubic hair. I'm not a prude by any stretch, I have no problem with nudity and sex in films if it serves an actual purpose, but watching that scene all I could think of was, well, there's a shot that exists only to please the guys who have the hots for young, naked Asian girls. Which for me, just made it feel exploitive.

The film is set in a family-run adult theater with a little cafe at the bottom that's open to the street, and the ambient noise in the first 15 or so minutes of the film was so loud and disconcerting that I almost walked out then. I was seriously getting crowd anxiety just from the level of noise. I get that it's supposed to set the place, but when it's so overwhelming that you can't appreciate what dialog there is -- even with subtitles -- it's just too much.

From there we're treated to a graphic oral sex scene between a man and a male prostitute that would be more appropriate for a gay porn film, and another graphic sex scene between a young man and woman that looked pretty darn real. Why? I guess because those are the things Mendoza felt were important to show us about those people.

Mendoza likes to follow people around in their natural setting, and that's pretty much what he does in this film; unfortunately, it's just not that interesting, because he doesn't give us enough about any of the characters to make us care about why we should want to spend 90 minutes or so of our lives watching them.

It's supposed to be, I guess, about the various relationships: the family matriarch is suing her husband for bigamy and wants him to go to jail, while her children want to see their father acquitted so as not to have his out-of-wedlock offspring legally recognized; the older daughter is trapped in a loveless relationship with her husband, who she married only because she was pregnant; the younger daughter wants to emulate the transitive prostitutes; the nephew, who has a boil on his ass, has gotten his girlfriend pregnant, adding to the family's poverty. And so on. It should have (and probably could have) been interesting, but it just wasn't.

The end of it for me and James was a disgustingly graphic scene of the nephew popping the boil on his ass with a coke bottle. I'm sure it was supposed to be metaphorical, but it was just gross, and that was enough for us.


Here's that opening sequence...

Telepolis' RĂ¼diger Suchsland gives it some positive notice, but still calls Serbis a pornographic movie. Ouch.

In the meantime, here's an ABS-CBN News story about how the film got made.

[related posts here and here]

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