Wednesday, 7 May 2008

XXY (2007, Argentina, Lucia Puenzo)

'XXY' was Argentina's official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at this year's Academy Awards and also represented Argentina at the Spanish Goya Awards for the category of Best Foreign Film in Spanish. The first time feature by the daughter of the Oscar-nominated Luis, 'XXY' is an impressive and sensitively handled debut and shows great promise as Puenzo tackles the issues facing an intersex teen with an appropriate and non-judgemental tone.

Alex (Ines Efron) is a typical teenager, exploring sex and sexuality and confused by it all; only she is different to other teenagers in one crucial way - she is an intersex, that is to say she has both male and female organs. It's a secret her family have tried hard to maintain, frequently moving schools and homes to protect Alex who obviously doesn't need the community singling her out as a freak (which eventually happens in a very difficult scene to watch where Alex is molested by some curious locals). She's fallen out with her best friend, Vando (Luciano Nobile), presumably because she told him the truth and betrayed her confidence. On the surface, Alex seems a girl but this is because she has undergone operations and drugs since birth to prevent her masculinising. However, her father (Ricardo Darin) vowed to allow her to decide which gender she wants to be, rather than make that decision for her.

A surgeon who deals with 'deformities' as his son puts it, is invited to the family's home on the coast to discuss with Alex want she wants to do. However this never really develops because Alex and Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky), the son of the surgeon, develop a relationship which explores their mutual curiosity with sex. One scene in which they make in love is quite humourously subverted as Alex, who to this point had shown all the indications she was a girl suddenly allows her masculine side to control this lovemaking. This scene is pivotal also in the context of the relationship the surgeon has with his son. Their relations are cold and this is discussed between them. The surgeon congratulates his son on making love to Alex because he was concerned his son was gay, hence his aloofness. Clearly the surgeon thought that Alex was the male role in male-female sex, rather than the male-male sex that occured. The impression I got was that this experience made Alvaro consider his own sexuality, especially given his liking of their encounter and his desire to try it again. Alex's confusion had unforeseen consequences - the surgeon was there to try to help but she in fact has impacted the relationship between the surgeon and his son, as well as helped Alvaro examine his own sexuality, which might not strictly be beneficial for the family.

To her credit, Puenzo doesn't force a decision upon Alex about her own gender, which would be the easy way out. She admits to being sick of operations and drugs and that she wants things to remain as they are, therefore the future is undetermined. 'XXY' could easily have been too melodramatic or too manipulative, but it's actually subtle and understated and crucially is just as humorous and is it serious and tragic. Perhaps it feels like it's more at home on television than the cinema, but it's a minor quibble really. Efron is terrific in the lead role, which requires the kind of complexity and mixed emotions that actors of her age shouldn't have by any rights. It's a film of potential for the director and lead actor rather than straining for greatness but who's to say it's beyond them. 3.5/5

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