Icelandic filmmaker Olaf de Fleur Johannesson's uneasy documentary/fiction hybrid -- he likes the term "visiomentary" -- was inspired by the life of Raquela Rios and other Filipino "ladyboys" -- transgendered men who live as women but retain their male anatomy..
The film opens with B&W footage of Raquela declaring, "This is my movie and this is my life story. I swear I will tell truth, but nothing but the truth. So help me God." Raised in Cebu City, Earvin Rios identified as female from the time he/she was a small child. As an adult, Earvin -- now rechristened Raquela, after a changeling princess in a fairy tale -- is suspended between fairy tale dreams and gritty reality. She lives at home, works as a prostitute, hangs out with her friends Aubrey and Via and hopes that one day she'll go to Paris, turn heads on the street with her beauty and meet a rich, handsome man who'll love her just as she is. Raquela's first lucky break, such as it is, comes in the form of photographer Johnny K. (Marcus Kalberer), who recruits T-girls for a webcam site owned by New York-based entrepreneur Michael (Stefan Schaefer) and run out of Bangkok by transsexual Miss Rose (May Rose). Her second is striking up an email friendship with Valerie (Valerie Grand), an Icelandic she-male of Filipino extraction. Valerie offers to help Raquela obtain a visa that will allow her to work in Iceland, which will bring her one giant step closer to her Parisian dreams, even if she has to work in a fish factory and clean house for a lonely old lady. Michael brings Raquela to Paris, and though their utterly unrealistic romance founders and Raquela is eventually forced to return home, she's actually glimpsed the wide, wonderful world of her dreams.
Rios is the glue that holds Johannesson's neither-fish-nor-fowl film together: No matter how suspect you find the blurring of fact and fiction, Rios is a natural-born star: When she's on screen you can't keep you eyes off her, and when she isn't her distinctive voiceover keeps her front and center. Though Raquela Rios isn't the film's "Raquela" Rios," Johannesson's screenplay draws extensively on her experiences and there's no missing the piercing authenticity of "Raquela"/Raquela's throwaway observations -- her simple assertion that all she wants is "a chance to live a better life" is quietly heartbreaking. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh