Queen Of Lapa


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Queen Of Lapa
"Taking its time and drifting lightly from one scene to another, this beautifully composed film really gets under the skin of its subjects, who seem marvellously at ease with the camera." | Photo: Courtesy of Doc/Fest

Although Jair Bolsonaro's attempt to outlaw being transgender was knocked back by the courts last year, Brazil is still considered to be the most dangerous country in the world in which to live as a trans person. It's more dangerous still for those who, pushed to the margins of society, make their living through sex work. Yet despite the violence faced by the community and the lack of legal protections, life is not all doom and gloom. Celebrated cabaret performer Luana Muniz has set up a hostel in which trans working girls can find a safe refuge and avoid pimps, and the sense of family that has developed there has given some residents the sense of belonging that they've been looking for throughout their lives.

Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat's documentary plunges us straight into the thick of life in this hostel, where the women crowd into the living room to talk about day to day life. There are direct interviews scattered throughout the film but they're informal and frequently blur into surrounding conversations, with other people wandering in and out as they take place. The directors are interested in uncovering the daily realities of their subjects and do so simply by observing and listening to them, whilst most of the women relish the chance to share their opinions and gossip about others. Although there's some nudity, there's very little sexual behaviour on display - work is just work, and although they have some amusing stories to share (and some scary ones), it's nit the be-all and end-all of life.

South American perspectives on what it means to be trans don't map seamlessly onto those of majority cultures in North America and Europe, and the carefully edited footage allows dialogues around these ideas to emerge naturally. The women also have different opinions from one another (one participant doesn't self-describe as a woman at all, declaring it too dangerous to do so) and there are arguments about the importance of 'passing' as a cis woman which will be familiar to trans viewers everywhere, along with arguments about the relative importance of beauty that every woman will have reckoned with. Intermingled with this are the nostalgic reminiscences of those who have migrated to the city to find work, and tales of violent men, gun crime and corrupt police.

Viewers who may attention will notice something here. In between the grim reminiscences are, again and again, stories of strangers coming to the rescue, ordinary people going out of their way to help. This is an aspect of trans experience that's all too often elided. One of the women takes the filmmakers on a walk around her patch, introducing shopkeepers she knows, chatting to passers-by who are endlessly friendly and excited about being in a film. There's a rich sense of community here and it carries over into the packed cabaret halls where we see snippets of Luana's shows - not great art but clearly popular and greeted with affection.

Everybody respects Luana, they say. Nobody brings trouble to her house. She's the kind of woman whose disapproving glance can make people feel as if they're back in primary school and being made to stand in the corner. Her steely will has helped to create an island of civilisation in a chaotic world. It frees up her tenants to be lighthearted and sometimes careless, to chatter about make-up and dream about love, even to make retirement plans.

Taking its time and drifting lightly from one scene to another, this beautifully composed film really gets under the skin of its subjects, who seem marvellously at ease with the camera. Viewers will enter the cinema to watch strangers and leave feeling as if they have made new friends. Unlike many trans-themed documentaries of late, this one makes no attempt to address what outsiders tend to see as the big, important questions, and because of this it gets much closer to the truth: that here are lives as messy and joyous and human as anybody else's.

Reviewed on: 03 Oct 2019
Share this with others on...
A proud transgender sex worker since the age of 11, Luana Muniz, now 59, shapes a new reality in her 'hostel' by housing a new generation of transgender sex workers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Director: Theodore Collatos, Carolina Monnerat

Starring: Luana Muniz, Luana Muniz

Year: 2019

Runtime: 73 minutes

Country: Brazil

Search database:

If you like this, try:

Bixa Travesty