Icelandic documentarian Olaf de Fleur openly blends fact and fiction in The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, the partially true story of Filipino transsexual Raquela Rios, who drifts from prostitution to the more lucrative realm of Internet "ladyboy porn," then winds up moving to Europe when one of her patrons propositions her via e-mail. Much of the dialogue in Queen Raquela is improvised—and some of it delivered directly into the camera, interview-style—and a lot of the footage was shot in on the fly, with handheld or hidden cameras. But de Fleur does impose a narrative on this vérité exercise, in an attempt to concoct a kind of postmodern, grown-up fairytale: a Cinderella story for the reality-TV age.
Queen Raquela's plotty elements don't always work: The acting in the story-driving scenes sometimes comes off as amateurish, and the circumstances that send Rios halfway around the world seem contrived. But de Fleur gets an astonishingly good performance from Stefan C. Schaefer (one of the film's co-writers) as the cynical New York porn impresario who finds Raquela and her ilk alternately disgusting and attractive. Schaefer has a sad-but-true, theme-defining speech halfway through Queen Raquela about how transsexuals are like cicadas, in that they hide for most of their lives, then come out and make a lot of noise before dying young. That idea resounds through the scene where Raquela gets her first HIV test, and even in more mundane moments, as when she takes a decidedly unglamorous job at a fish factory in order to realize her dream of touring Paris. Rios has a grating voice that sounds a little like Henrietta Pussycat from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, but she always does her best to look fabulous, and carry herself like one of the idle socialites she's seen in magazines. Given the likelihood of an ultimately nasty end to her lifestyle, any minute Rios spends not enjoying herself seems like a waste.