You know, the nice thing about all of those classic fairy tales is that if you can’t relate to them in their original setting, they operate on such a primal level that their stories can easily be told from within a completely different setting. Can’t connect to “Pinocchio” as an Italian puppet? Set it in the future and make him a robot. Is all the magic stuff turning you off “Sleeping Beauty”? Make it a drug allegory from the mean streets of New York. Does “Cinderella” strike you as veiled dogma enforcing traditional gender roles? Make the lead a Brazilian transvestite hooker. How do…. HEY, WHAT WAS THAT?!?!
Yeah, while “Princesa” may not exactly follow the same path at “Cinderella” (some might argue “Snow White”, but then you might be alarmed at who would be the seven dwarfs), it does feel like some kind of fractured fairy tale about a lowly maiden looking for her Prince Charming. We first find our beleaguered heroine Fernanda (Ingrid de Souza) on a train bound for Milan, Italy. The one-time simple, Catholic Brazilian boy plans to work there as a prostitute to finance a complete sex-change operation beyond the impressive breast implants she already has. She meets her first customer before she even sets foot there as an Italian border officer chooses a very private way of validating her documents. Fernanda, resigned to her place in society, agrees.
Quickly locating her place of employment, Fernanda meets Karin (Lulu Pecorari), a middle-aged transvestite who acts as boss and protector to a large, really dysfunctional band of transvestite hookers. None quite match the delicate features of Fernanda, and following a test that verifies her, uh, skills, Karin decides to take the girl into her home and under her wing. For a while after that, time passes in a blur of johns, but our girl is slowly saving her money.
Then one day, she meets her Prince Charming, a reserved businessman named Gianni (Cesare Bocci). Though married to a beautiful, fair Italian woman, Gianni and his wife have drifted apart due to their competing careers. Despite his conservative middle-class background, something within him longs for Fernanda immediately. Though initially repelled by the surprise awaiting him below her waist. He surprisingly comes around and initiates an earnest and romantic courtship. Their relationship quickly drives a wedge between the Brazilian and her adopted Italian tranny family. However, Gianni surprises them all with commitment to Fernanda when he agrees not only to leave his wife for her, but also pay for her operation and set up a home for the two of them where they can live happily ever after.
Sounds too good to be true? Well, this is the point where reality kicks in. Surprisingly, the problem may not be Gianni. Life as a dedicated housewife, not to mention the new experience of daily hormones leading to the operation, are brand new experiences for Fernanda. She must soon decide whether her dream is worth having now that it’s within her grasp and gains a new perspective concerning her old life. A lifestyle different from your own never seems to be what you expect and the middle-class world presented to her is just as disconcerting as the John Waters-esque transvestite hooker culture probably is to much of this film’s audience. Sometimes you just can’t gain that knowledge until you dare to climb over one side of that white picket fence.
Director and co-writer Henrique Goldman first encountered the book “Princesa” years ago, but his final script for the film is a much different creature thanks to copious amounts of research and the direct input of the original book’s co-writer, the real Brazilian prostitute named Fernanda. The final result becomes a search not for a knight in shining armor, but one of acceptance for one’s own identity. Due to Fernanda’s initial grip on that hope for a fairy tale ending, much of the film takes on a light, satirical tone. Additional irony derives from crafting a story about personal acceptance among one of the most ostracized subcultures in society. Of course, once proper society is looking the other way, the strangely large number of Brazilian transvestite prostitute in this country service a clientele composed mostly of quite normal looking Italian men. Sadly the real Fernanda never seemed to find peace with herself and committed suicide. Goldman greatly feels the pain of her loss having spent so much time with her developing this project. It’s unfortunate she could not hold on until the director could complete his film. Whatever she was like, this movie is a fantastic tribute to her. You can’t help but think that if she could have only seen the affection and acceptance given her through another’s eyes, she might retained a bit of it for herself.