Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Adapted from a short story by Sergio Bizzio, XXY is the story of Alex (Inés Efron), a fifteen year old intersexual born with genitalia characteristic of both male and female. Argentine director Lucia Puenzo, daughter of Luis Puenzo who directed The Official Story, though tackling a delicate subject has avoided sensationalism while crafting a deeply touching and poignant coming of age story about the pain of growing up without truly knowing who you are. Though minimal amounts of dialog are used and there are long periods of silence, XXY does not come across as being pretentious or strained. Rather it captures the uncertainty and awkwardness of teens with authenticity and awareness.
Alex's father Kraken (Ricardo Darin) is a marine biologist who wants to protect his daughter/son from the stares and questions of society and moves the family to a remote seaside residence in Uruguay. Now that Alex has become a teen, he wants to give her the right to choose whether to lead her life as a man or a woman while emphasizing that he loves her unconditionally and thinks she is "perfect" exactly the way she is and the way she is not. Alex seems to have made her choice by stopping the hormones that have kept her female but her mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) pressures her to decide about surgery by inviting friends Ramiro and Erika (German Palacios and Carolina Pelleritti) from Buenos Aires to stay with them, one of whom is a doctor who specializes in plastic surgery, her invitation being on the pretext that she wants Ramiro to get to know Alex.
Along for the ride is their shy teenage son Alvaro, brilliantly portrayed by Martin Piroyansky who knows nothing of Alex's condition and has some sexual issues of his own. What is not anticipated, however, is that Alex and Alvaro will form an immediate emotional connection, though neither will admit it to the other, and in a beautifully controlled scene, have a sexual encounter with Alex revealing herself by playing the male role. Though the encounter was witnessed by her father, he is not judgmental only perplexed about what his proper role should be in Alex's life, and discusses Alex with a gas station owner who had to make a similar choice in his teens.
Kraken's emotional support stands in sharp contrast with Ramiro. In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in a long time, Ramiro is unspeakably cruel to Alvaro, telling him that he lacks talent and that, with dripping irony, he is glad he is attracted to Alex since he was beginning to think he was gay. Water symbolism runs throughout the film – Kraken, who is named after a mythological sea monster, rescues turtles from poachers and removes their shell to discover their sex. Alex has an aquarium filled with hermaphroditic clownfish and a collection of dolls with attached penises attached. None of this symbolism, however, adds much to a story that is told with subtlety and great sensitivity.
Winner of the Critics Week Grand Circle Award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, XXY features an extraordinary performance by Inés Efron who manages to build empathy for her character while making Alex a symbol of all adolescents' search for acceptance. Director Lucia Puenzo has said that after reading the short story by Bizzio that she "couldn't get it out of her head". A film of haunting beauty and compassion that says that every human being deserves to be loved for who they are regardless of gender, physical deformity, or sexual orientation, it will also be hard to get out of your head.