Wednesday, April 22

Review: The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (2008)

The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

Directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson
Starring Raquela Rios, Stefan Schaefer

Rating: 4.5

A bittersweet heroic journey of a Filipino transvestite from the slums of Cebu to the streets of Paris that cleverly blurs fantasy and biting reality.

Raquela personifies the stereotypical Filipino transvestite: excessively made-up, amusingly flirty, dangerously promiscuous, with a brightly shining heart of gold. She earns money for her family and dreams of visiting Paris one day. It was painful to watch all the cliché come to play in the first part of the movie. Director Olaf de Fleur Johannesson's point of view is unapologetic; there is no escape from the third world poverty (resources, ignorance) that barricades Raquela's world, vivid in her thoughts and shaky on the screen. But it is this Western eye that would later on transform Raquela's experiences into a modern myth. With a news-feature documentary style, the plot that is mostly fiction achingly breathes with a stubborn but tired heart, a heart that's all too familiar for the local audience that it makes it nearly impossible to tell apart which is real and which is not. Raquela is real and the journey she goes through, from zero to hero, might as well be.

In laying out the monomyth, Joseph Campbell, in The Hero of a Thousand Faces, studies the fundamental structure of a hero's journey: A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. Raquela's call to adventure---"A blunder–apparently the merest chance–reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood"---happens when she joins an internet porn site that specializes on lady boys, which is owned by Michael Ardilo (Stefan Schaefer), an American staying in New York. Raquela, who is lively and witty in speech, exceeds the company's expectation so much so that even the site's Thai counterpart have heard of her success.

Raquela's supernatural aid comes when she befriends Valerie on the internet, a lady boy who is based in Iceland who offers Raquela the opportunity to work in Reykjavik. When Michael hears about this, he promises her a rendezvous in Paris. The first threshold Raquela had to cross was the HIV test. Here, she begins her transformation into someone more self-aware, which equips her with the necessary "inner strength" to survive the cold landscape of Iceland.

Valerie brings Raquela to the fish factory where she works; for Raquela it meant the opportunity to permanently stay in Iceland. It is in her small apartment in Reykjavik, among her new flea market clothes, where she changes. A butterfly emerging from her cocoon, so to speak, more flamboyant and stylish than ever but also more cautious. In a very intimate scene, as her visa expires and Raquela prepares to meet Michael in Paris, she confesses to the camera, with her mascara smeared down her cheeks, that she is not a gold-digger and merely wants an alternate way to improving her life.

In Paris, Raquela discovers that Michael (woman, or in this case, man as temptation) was not the man who would sweep her off her feet. Michael, a stereotype of the ugly American in philosophy and manners, was ominously demanding but did rightfully blurt out (before leaving for Amsterdam) that Raquela, it seemed, would enjoy Paris more if she were by herself. And she did.

At once apotheosis and ultimate boon, Raquela---she who used to desperately wait for some phantom knight-in-shining-armor in airports---relished in her independence, sashaying down the streets, sipping coffee in cafes, watching an Audrey Hepburn movie, in the city of her dreams.

Back in Cebu, she reveals the amazing truth about Queen Raquela: that she was borne of royal blood but a jealous stepmother had given her away to a poor farming family and now that she is aware of her royal lineage, she is doing everything in her power to reclaim the life she was supposed to lead.

The really amazing thing is that the fairy tale she tells herself is no grander than her own journey from the slums to Paris. She may have left a queen but came back a Queen, as master of two worlds ("Because of the boon or due to his experience, the hero may now perceive both the divine and human worlds.") who has conquered armies of discrimination. In the movie's end, as Raquela and her friends gossip the night away with a sprawling view of the city below them, I would like to imagine that she is surveying her kingdom. And that she is dreaming where to go to next.



Andy Briones said...

Aw, sounds like a good film! They showed this least year in Cinemanila, right? Sayang wasn't able to watch it. :(

Thor Bee said...

Yes, but was able to catch it at Robinsons Galleria. It had a week and a half run and last Tuesday was its last night.

It's a really good movie. Very affecting minus the sentimentality; a "third world cinema" p.o.v. that's never patronizing.

Hope it comes out on DVD. There are actually interesting deleted scenes and interviews on the official site.

Thor Bee said...

Oh, and Andy, are you happy with the A.I. results? I am. :D

Andy Briones said...

Hell yeah! I'm glad that Little — after what seems like a decade — finally got the boot. :p

I'm sad, though, that Anoop dawg ended up as the episode's second casualty. He's been doing good the past few weeks....

What's up with Alison's hair? Is she aiming for an Incredible Hulk look? :p

Thor Bee said...

Performance-wise, Matt should have gone home but he's a more interesting performer than Anoop IMO. Still, Lil's elimination made my week. :D

On Allison's hair, hehe, Incredible Hulk na, Lou Ferrigno era pa!

Andy Briones said...

I saw her hair during results night; mejo okay naman pala. There was this one episode where her hair really looked bad. Country week ba yun? I don't remember.

Lulz re: Lou Ferrigno. I remember watching The Incredible Hulk back in the '80s. Banner had this line, "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

I like it when Banner gets angry; he turns into Lou Ferrigno with bad hairdo. Ehehe.