Far more than the usual drag queen docu, “Queen of Brazil” keeps all the fun of the sub-genre while giving it a soul by concentrating on a committed couple determined to bring the title “Miss Gay Brazil” home to their beauty salon in the hinterland. Novice helmers Ricardo Bruno and Fernanda Tornaghi don’t stint on the glam wigs and fake-nail biting tension, but they nicely blend it with discussions that are more than just skin-deep. This “Queen” is a sure-fire pleaser for fest-goers of all stripes, and a shoe-in for pink-tinged art cinemas.
The Miss Gay Brazil pageant has been running for 32 years, attracting as many as 10,000 spectators with its blend of gender illusion and 1960s-style glamour. No transsexuals are allowed: These gals have all their male parts in place, with only foam supplements. Like most national beauty contests, it starts on the state level, though unusually contestants don’t have to be from the province they’re representing.
Docu picks up with preparations for the Miss Rio de Janeiro contest. Fabio, aka Michelle Honda, and his b.f. Junior take a three day bus ride from their hometown of Porto Velho, in the far western state of Rondonia, to reach Rio so Fabio can compete for the title. The two run a beauty salon, with Fabio the hairdresser and Junior the cosmetologist: perfect training for the fierce contest ahead.
Helmers Bruno and Tornaghi balance the pageant world with regular life, interviewing the couple’s family and friends about acceptance in what’s basically a provincial backwater. Issues of machismo arise, but also a surprisingly affirmative support network; though more time could have been spent with this aspect of their lives, what does make it on screen gives texture and substance to the deliriously camp elements that comprise docu’s larger portion.
With his flawless pancake make-up topped by a hairdo as complicated as the most elaborate tresses sported by Elizabeth Taylor in her prime, Michelle Honda wins Miss Rio. Several months later Fabio and Junior are off again to Rio, on their first plane ride, to try for the national title.
Contestants come from all walks of life — one is even a cattle herder — and while discussing their sense of fulfilment and the chance to escape from reality, these guys transform themselves into goddesses (the Warrior Princess of Amapu deserves to be memorialized with her own Barbie doll). It’s difficult to know whether the helmers deliberately downplay any sense of cut-throat rivalry, but despite the tension there appears to be a genuine sense of camaraderie.
Lensing is straightforward docu style, allowing all the bells and whistles to remain on the costumes rather than the camera. Editing, along with the ace music selection, keep spirits high without feeling artificially induced.