According to filmmaker Olaf De Fleur, transsexual women in ancient myths were feminine but strong, guardians of kingdoms. De Fleur goes on to say that today many of them live outside of society, have little education and work low-paying jobs or in the sex industry.
Based on actual events, De Fleur’s narrative style documentary tells the fascinating story of Raquela Rios, the “Queen Raquela” of the title. Living as a “ladyboy” in Cebu City in the Philippines, Raquela, 21, works as a prostitute. She is a streetwalker during what she calls, in her falsetto voice, the “low season” and on rainy days. She is surrounded by danger from police chases to accidents to harassment. Raquela, who lives at home and has a dog named Tootsie, dreams of going to Paris.
Out nightclubbing with ladyboy pals Via (Via Galudo) and Aubrey (Brax Villa), the trio commiserates about guys who aren’t serious about relationships with ladyboys. In an interview with Raquela’s mother, she refers to her son, born Earvin, as she. Via’s mother has five children, including ladyboy Via and one lesbian. She smiles proudly when she talks about her “complete family” and how it is God’s will.
While Aubrey wants to become an engineer so that she can help her family, Raquela has dropped out of school. Raquela confesses to not liking to use condoms during sex. There is a sort of carelessness about her attitude. When she is hit by a car while chatting away on her cell phone, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. At the hospital, with her leg in a cast, she jokes about having used up one of her nine lives.
There is a recurring theme of disappointment throughout the film. It is exemplified in the people she makes contact with on the Internet, many of whom promise her things but never deliver. A nursing school interview, in which Raquela is dressed as Earvin, is also something of a disaster.
But things soon turn around for Raquela when she encounters Johnny (Markus Kalberer) from Holland. Johnny works for Michael (Stefan Schaefer), who lives in New York and owns and operates a transgender porn Web site. Talent scout Johnny recognizes Raquela’s potential and puts her to work. Before she knows it, she is a huge success. With an income, it looks as though Raquela’s dream of a trip to Paris may become a reality.
Raquela also meets Valerie (Valerie Grand), a trans woman from Iceland, on the Internet. Valerie offers to help Raquela go abroad and get a visa. First Raquela must get an HIV test. When she tests negative for the virus, Web site owner Michael also offers to help by paying for her airline ticket to Iceland. Michael, who vacillates between being generous and sleazy, shares his insights into the phenomenon of the ladyboy.
Once in Iceland, following a two-day stopover in Copenhagen, Raquela meets Valerie face-to-face and goes about beginning her new life. On a “very tight” visa, with no room for “hanky-panky,” Raquela goes to work with Valerie in a fish factory. She also takes a side job as a housecleaner for a little extra money. Just as she is settling in to her new existence, her two-month visa permit is approaching its expiration date. Raquela wants to extend it and expresses her desire for a “passage for a better life.”
Michael flies to Iceland to see Raquela. He takes her to Paris and it soon becomes clear that his interest in her goes beyond being professional. But they don’t get along at all and he leaves her alone in Paris and takes off for Amsterdam. By this point Michael has moved on in his interests and, back in New York, he talks about exploring the ladyboy community in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Queen Raquela is forced to return to Cebu City. In spite of her rich fantasy life, in which she imagines that she somehow ended up in the wrong family because of a curse that was put on her by an evil queen, she somehow finds a way to face the reality of her situation. Reunited with Via and Aubrey, the trio picks up where they left off, as if no time had passed.
DVD bonus features include audio commentary and a “making of” featurette narrated by the director, a dozen deleted scenes and a Queen Raquela music video.
In many ways, this is director David Kittredge’s “Mulholland Drive.” In much the same way that the David Lynch thriller reeled us in through a story of moviemaking and some of what happens behind the scenes and in the lives of those involved, “Pornography: A Thriller” does so with gay male erotica. Unfortunately, it also falls apart in the same way that “Mulholland Drive” did.
In New York in 1995, retired gay porn actor Mark Anton (Jared Grey), now clean and sober and enrolled in photography school, is offered $40,000 by an anonymous fan to make one more video. He shows up, is killed and his murder is videotaped.
In Brooklyn, 14 years later, gay couple Michael (Matthew Montgomery) and William (Walter Delmar) find the perfect apartment, with a view of the Manhattan skyline, at an unbelievable price. William works in the city and Michael is a writer, hard at work on a book about the “history of genre filmmaking,” a.k.a. gay male porn, and the “nature of desire.” He spends his day tracking down and trying to interview porn stars and perusing rare and vintage movies. Michael notices strange holes in the wall and ceiling, where cameras were mounted, and he also discovers a secret panel in the wall which contains a video of Mark Anton being tortured and murdered.
After a series of creepy events, the movie evolves into a supernatural psychological thriller – and an effective one, at that. And just as you get swept up in the action, you find out that you’re watching a movie about an L.A.-based porn star writing a “porno thriller in three acts” that ends like a Greek tragedy titled, you guessed it, “The Mark Anton Story.” This is exactly where things begin to unravel. Unfortunately, by the third act, the story gets muddled and that’s too bad, because up to that point, “Pornography: A Thriller,” was living up to its name.
DVD bonus features include commentary, deleted scenes, a featurette and more.