Set in the overcrowded, noise-polluted, bustling city of Angeles, the former location of the U.S. military-operated Clark Air Force Base, the characters in Brillante Mendoza’s kinetic and vertiginous Serbis are, in a sense, integrally connected to fortunes of the city’s postwar history as an entertainment district for the nearby air base. Once owning a chain of movie houses, the proud, Pineda family matriarch, Nanay Flor (Gina Pareño) is now struggling to keep her last remaining movie house afloat by featuring all day, second-run adult films, aided by her daughter Nayda (Jaclyn Jose), her son-in-law, Lando (Julio Diaz) who runs a small cafeteria near the street entrance, and her nephews Ronald (Kristofer King), the projectionist, and Alan (Coco Martin), the building superintendent. But soon, it becomes apparent that the Pineda family is too distracted with the circumstances in their own lives to properly attend to the business of the failing theater. Consumed by a protracted trial that she had initiated against her husband for bigamy in the hopes that a guilty verdict would clear the way for a proper divorce and vindicate her name in society, Nanay Flor occupies her time with courthouse visits and meetings with her attorney. Faced with impending fatherhood, Alan is being pressured into marriage by his girlfriend, Merly (Mercedes Cabral). And even the dependable Nayda finds herself increasingly attracted to the introverted Ronald. Revolving around the titular theme of service – from the city’s past history of entertaining locally stationed American servicemen (an idea that is reinforced in the appearance of biracial characters in the film), to the Pineda family’s continued dedication to the movie house despite personal conflicts and petty jealousies, to young men hustling gay patrons in its dark aisles – Mendoza parallels the plight of the Pineda family with the dilapidated movie theater. Framed against recurring images of interconnected, labyrinthine stairs, the juxtaposition reflects the constant struggle between old world values and harsh economic reality, dignity and survival, culture and commercialism.
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