Princesa
dir. Goldman
Opens Fri June 7
Clinton Street Theater

Princesa is an Italian film about a Brazilian transsexual prostitute--which might sound like something you're familiar with, having been inundated with Hedwig And the Angry Inch, The Crying Game, etc. However, it lacks even a whiff of the cartoonish campiness that many representations of the lifestyle employ. Not for a moment does this movie allow the audience to pin up its subject as a specimen, to point and say, "Ooh, that's weird." Part of this is attributable to director Henrique Goldman's choice to cast actual transsexuals, rather than professional actors suited up for the part. The fur coats and garter hose are there, but they are entirely devoid of any sense of costuming.

Instead of focusing on what makes the title character subcultural, the film jumps right into a story of personal development, and an emotional quest that everyone, ultimately, must undertake. Princesa, aka Fernanda, travels from Brazil to the red light district of Milan, where she is hired as a prostitute by the austere Karin, a lonely and wealthy madame who eventually takes Princesa into her home as a companion. Euro dance music bumps as prostitutes writhe against the car doors of prospective clients and fend off hecklers with purses. Through a rapid blur of orgasmic funny faces and barfing whores, Princesa is a figure of serenity, a devout Catholic and patient friend, as well as an energetic and sought-after hooker.

The plot becomes increasingly interesting when a wealthy, heterosexual, married man falls in love with Princesa. As the relationship matures, she begins to pull away from her life as a streetwalker, and the evolutions of her metamorphosis are queer-centric without any us/them clinical distance. Indeed, the audience's relationship to her as a protagonist is as intimate and sympathetic as any heroine in any film that tempers reality with such relish. In a final act of originality, the end of this film does not unfold as expected and pulls off a happy ending that is bizarrely satisfying.