I reviewed Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s Queen of Lapa for this week’s Cinefile Chicago list.
Theodore Collatos and Carolina Monnerat’s QUEEN OF LAPA (Brazil/Documentary)
Available for rent from various “virtual cinemas” via Factory 25 here
Brooklyn-based filmmaker Theodore Collatos is best known for directing the impressive micro-budget narrative features DIPSO (2012) and TORMENTING THE HEN (2017), the latter of which stars his wife, the gifted Brazilian actress Carolina Monnerat. QUEEN OF LAPA is a cinema verité documentary in which Monnerat teams up with Collatos behind the camera to ostensibly chronicle the legendary Brazilian transgender prostitute-turned-activist Luana Muniz. The film’s title is somewhat misleading, however, as this doc is as much about the group of younger trans sex workers that Muniz has taken under her wing, and who reside in a hostel she runs in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa neighborhood, as it is about the colorful matriarch Muniz herself. Unlike most movies (fiction and non-fiction alike) that take prostitution as their subject, QUEEN OF LAPA seems to studiously avoid depicting interactions between sex workers and johns, the latter of whom are virtually nowhere to be seen, and focuses instead almost exclusively on the sisterhood of these vibrant young women who live and work together under the same roof. One memorable scene shows a conversation between two friendly rivals about whether or not it’s ethical to enjoy sex when one is being paid for it. Another features a prostitute, standing alone by a window, taking a flat iron to her wig while simultaneously recalling stories about the earliest clients she had when she was still a child. What these remarkable scenes, and others like them, have in common is a tone of quiet authenticity that can only be achieved when an unusually high degree of mutual trust is established between filmmaker and subject. It’s a compassionate and non-sensationalistic look at the inside of a subculture that most viewers will be unfamiliar with. So much of QUEEN OF LAPA takes place inside the House of Muniz, in fact, that it ends up becoming a fascinating portrait of an interior world whose denizens have established their own rules; or as Muniz herself poetically puts it, it’s “one of the last communities where humans can dream.” This self-enclosed, self-created world is thrown into stark relief whenever Collatos and Monnerat’s camera does venture out into the streets or into a nearby cabaret nightclub where the larger-than-life Muniz performs an awesome slow-motion dance number to a karaoke version of an Elton John song. All of which is to say, this is perfect Pride-month viewing. (2019, 83 min) MGS