J. Hoberman in the Village Voice: For all its gross-outs, Serbis is an essentially modernist enterprise in which figure and ground, character-driven narrative and celluloid spectacle, are in continual flux. In another universe, perhaps Comedy Central, it could be a porn-based sitcom. But is that porn or meta porn? Serbis may be a raunch-fest, but it’s also a mind-tripâ€”a raunch-fest with ideas.
Manohla Dargis in the New York Times: In â€œSerbisâ€ politics isnâ€™t a matter of slogans but of real bodies, which perhaps accounts for why it paradoxically unwinds in a movie theater. The heavenly bodies that populate our films bring their own pleasures, of course, alighting on screen as if from a dream. The bodies in this movie â€” which received little love at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival â€” are not heaven sent, but neither are they puppets in a cinematically contrived nightmare. Rather, they lust, sweat, desire and struggle with ferocious truth.
If you go to the Comments on the NYT review, you’ll notice two Filipino (I presume) readers with dissenting views on the movie. One calls it Third World misery porn designed to titillate westerners; one says it presents truths Filipinos prefer not to face. The former is a common criticism of Filipino movies screened abroad. I think both opinions are valid, although Serbis cleverly uses the misery porn as a hook to make people watch a movie of ideas. One must be pragmatic.
Note: As far as I know Serbis has not been commercially exhibited in Manila outside of screenings at Cinemanila and at universities. It will likely (if it hasn’t already) get an X-rating. If the producers were as greedy as that commenter suggests, they should’ve pushed for a local theatrical run. Nothing like an X-rating from the censors to draw the crowds.
Tuhog, which like Serbis was written by Bing Lao, competed at the Venice Festival in 2001. The afternoon screening was attended by a group of Filipinas based in Italy. After the screening, they gathered at the entrance to wait for the director, Jeffrey Jeturian.
“Ano ba yang pelikulang yan,” one lady declared, “Puro kapangitan ang ipinakita.” (That movie was all squalor.)
“Ang laswa,” her companion added. “Ano na lang ang iisipin ng mga foreigner?” (It’s obscene. What will foreigners think?)
“Di man lang pinakita ang mga magagandang tourist spots sa atin,” another lady added. “Boracay. Mga mall. Sino ba’ng nag-direk ng Tuhog na yan?” (They didn’t even show the pretty sights back home. Like Boracay and the malls. Who directed that?)
“Ako po,” replied Jeffrey, who had just emerged from the theatre.
“Ayy!” the ladies cried. “Ang galing mo naman! Doon ka sa amin mag-dinner! Saang hotel ka? Tumira ka na lang sa bahay ko.” (What talent! Come to dinner at my house! Which hotel are you staying in? You can stay in my house.)