Film Highlight: Serbis

Coco Martin as Alan in <i>Serbis</i>

Coco Martin as Alan in Serbis

Filipino director Brillante Mendoza's Serbis is entirely set in and around a candidate for the world's tawdriest movie theater—a dingy hall of mirrors that's hilariously but not inaccurately named the Family. This cavernous bijou is operated as well as inhabited by the Pineda clan, petty bourgeois shopkeepers who exhibit straight porn for a mainly gay male clientele. Hardly the first movie ever made about a movie house, Serbis has affinities with Tsai Ming-liang's Goodbye Dragon Inn (2002) and Jacques Nolot's Porn Theater (2003), but it's less wistful and more graphic than either—also more self-reflexive. Surrounded by giant posters of smoldering, barely sarong'd hotties, the Pinedas live both at the movies and in one, just as Mendoza's film serves to comment on those that are screened. Serbis is just a day in the Family's life: As the boy's father preps the concession stand's deep-fried treats, another member of the Pineda clan freshens the paint on the gaudy posters of naked pulchritude that decorate the theater, then bandages a boil on his posterior. More outrageous than prurient, Serbis has no shortage of appalling details—its ideal spectator might be John Waters. But for all its gross-outs, it is an essentially modernist enterprise in which figure and ground, character-driven narrative and celluloid spectacle, are in continual flux. Serbis may be a raunch-fest, but it's also a mind-trip—a raunch-fest with ideas.