Reviews of Of Time and the City, The Secret of the Grain and Serbis


Of Time and the City: Terence Davies’ elegiac, bittersweet portrait of his hometown of Liverpool, England from the 1940’s to the present is nostalgic in the true sense of the word: every memory is filled with pain. It’s a lovely film made up of almost nothing but found footage, of a young boy delivering milk on his bicycle, of women gathered at a public place to wash their clothes while laughing and talking together, of empty streets—one eventually wonders just who shot some of this footage, who just happened to have a camera and thought, “I know, I’ll just film some kid delivering milk”, and then actually kept the stock all these years. As usual, Davies counterpoints his story with popular music, often highly sentimental, which doesn’t make the reality easier to live with, it actually makes the music more heartrending to listen to.

Other films of Davies highly recommend: The House of Mirth, The Neon Bible, The Long Day Closes and Distant Voices, Still Lives

The Secret of the Grain: An intense and painfully penetrating study of a dysfunctional family written and directed by Abdel Kechiche. There are moments of astounding power here as the members of a struggling family go after each with the focus of the Furies, employing dialog that seems both brilliantly improvised and honed into sharp knives. At the same time, many in the audience may find that the extended scenes tend to weaken the emotional stakes due to their length: the author has a habit of making his point and then remaking it, often for five and ten minutes. The ending gears up the suspense, but whether one finds it gripping or eventually annoying, especially since the story doesn’t have a resolution, will probably be the deciding factor as to whether one likes the film or not. Worth seeing, but at the same time, may not be as satisfying as many critics suggest.

Serbis: Another study of a dysfunctional family, this one in the Philippines and set in a once gorgeous movie palace that is now decaying and only showing pornographic films. The clientele is gay men who come to pay for sex (“serbis” translates as “service” and is used by rent boys looking to be hired). It’s not as homophobic as it sounds, but it’s not a happy picture either. The family, barely hanging on and none of them sure exactly how they ended up as they have (the main character who runs the theater is perplexed by the idea that she started out with a nursing degree), is beset by the same problems many families have: sibling rivalry; a son getting his girlfriend pregnant and not wanting to take responsibility; a woman seeking a divorce (this last does seem to have some peculiar Philippine aspects, the suggestion is that adultery can land a person in jail and the legal ramifications regarding offspring are more complex than in the U.S.). The only really happy person is the gay son who got married so he could be a father; he dotes on his pregnant wife who seems to be as happy as he is. The movie is not uninteresting and well worth seeing, but at the same time, it’s hard to say that it really connects emotionally to the audience as well as one might want. Directed by Brillante Mendoza, who apparently started making movies when he was 45, which should give hope to us all; written by Armando Lao and Boots Agbayani Pastor.

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