movie review : QUEEN RAQUELA


queen_raquelaA DIGITAL film that BB Gandanghari should not miss is “The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela,”  a best picture winner at the Berlinale Teddy Awards about a transvestite in Cebu directed by a first-time director from Iceland, Olaf de Fleur. Just like BB, Raquela (Raquela Rios), is a “lady boy” who has yet to have full transsexual surgery. He (or she) works as a streetwalker and uses the chatroom dreaming of finding a heterosexual foreigner husband who will send for her abroad so she can leave her life of poverty and despair. 
   
She’s been duped several times by online suitors while awaiting her prince charming. It’s often a heartbreaking experience for her and this she conveys through talking head interviews where she confesses her deepest feelings and secrets. Raquela is not really an actress but she’s just being herself, so you get the feeling it’s all true, just like the other lady boys appearing in the film, including Valerie (Valerie Grand Einarsson), a real transsexual in Iceland who Raquela meets through the internet. It’s also through the net that she meets a Yankee pimp, Michael, who operates a website specializing on Asian transsexual erotica. He tells her they should meet in Paris. But first, she has to go to Iceland to earn some money in a fish factory, courtesy of Valerie who helps her with a temporary visa. Finally, she meets Michael in Paris. He turns out to be a repulsive jerk but Raquela has the heart of a resilient survivor and still bounces back.
   
This low-budget film is presented as a documentary but it’s really more of a mock-umentary, as it’s a mixture of fact and fiction.  The end credits show that some episodes in Raquela’s life are just dramatizations to show stories of Raquela’s patience and perseverance in pursuing her dreams, some of which really happened to her or to other homosexuals. The director just integrated them all into one movie. Without revealing how it ends, the film is a gritty wish-fulfillment Cinderella fairy tale for gays as it does have a very happy ending for Raquela. 
   
The cast credits show that a number of roles you thought were for real are just played by actors hired to perform them, just like Michael who we thought was a truly crude and manipulative pimp. But it turned out it’s just a role played by actor Stefan C. Schaefer, who gives a very credible portrayal. In all fairness to the actors here, they’re uniformly convincing in their respective roles that it’s hard to tell which scenes are real and which ones are just acted out. In the case of the bigoted Michael, it’s apparent he’s the one meant to play villain as he even compares homosexuals to cicadas who conceal their true selves for years before coming out and dying quickly.
   
Olaf de Fleur obviously fell in love with the Cebu nightlife and its ladyboys, which is why he did this low-budget film about Raquela’s life that runs for only 80 minutes. It’s up to you to guess which episodes in the film actually happened in real life and which ones are  make believe. But in the end, the film succeeds in gaining the viewer’s respect for Raquela   who travels through life with honesty and openness about her gender and sexuality. She obviously enjoys being true to herself and living her life the way she feels it ought to be lived. And isn’t that what BB Gandanghari saying all along? The only difference is that Raquela is only 22, while BB is already in his 40s. Maybe she should have come out earlier.
mario a bautista/journal online

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