XXY – The Chromosomes of Identity

{Originally published on LatinoLA.com on August 12th 2008}

As a debut from first time director Lucia Puenzo, the Argentine film, “XXY,” is an unambiguously crafted statement on the multiple layers of identity. Told with minimal yet potent lyricism and cinematic metaphors, the film is centered around the explicit and compounded conundrum of Alex (Ines Efron), a fifteen year old girl coming of age with a medical condition known as “genital ambiguity.” Though born with both sex organs, Alex and her parents have willed her through to young womanhood with medications aimed at halting her male development. Alex, a gender-neutral name itself, has faced the curious yet mean spirited ridicule of those around her all her young life in the meantime.

In “XXY,” Alex’s identity issues come to a crossroads. Her mother, Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) invites a surgeon, Ramiro (Germán Palacios), and his family to stay at their remote home off the coast of Uruguay with the ultimate objective of physically deciding her daughter’s gender – something her husband disallowed at the time of Alex’s birth. Ramiro’s teenage son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky) overtime develops an attraction to Alex which accelerates and alternately confuses her emerging sexualized identity. The mental and emotional struggles that the young Alex suffers through in the film is at times as piercing as her eyes.

As the subject of intrigue, Efron turns in a superb performance as young hermaphrodite made to feel like an exceptional outcast all her life. The general frustrations that come with teen years are indeed only amplified by her impossible situation. Rebellious, Alex has been expelled from school for breaking her best friend’s nose in the beginning of “XXY.” Her mother views her daughter’s recent decision to stop taking medication to keep facial hair from growing as similarly insolent and desperately hopes that the invited surgeon can convince Alex to “correct” her condition. Enfron’s portrayal of an intelligent, inquisitive, and at times unpredictable young teen brings a deep human sympathy to a character who is often treated like a circus attraction by many in her coastal Uruguayan community.

What ensues throughout the rest of the film is the tension that Alex’s predicament brings to herself and to those closest around her. Alex’s father, Kraken (Ricardo Darín) jettisons presupposed gender stereotypes as he assumes the role of the caring, sensitive parent who seeks to understand his daughter’s increasing desires to become a man. Suli, on the other hand, recounts the beach side conception of Alex where she and her husband had to hide from being caught – much like she has attempted throughout her life to hide the condition of the creation of her tryst. On the other hand, Alex and Alvaro’s consummated attraction underscore his own identity anxieties with an overbearing father bullish father who disrespects his artistic talents. One campfire conversation reveals the apprehension between the two as Alvaro’s implied attraction to Alex brings his father relief as he thought his son was a “fag.”

Though the film is ambiguous in its conclusion, “XXY” excels in invoking an empathy for the plight of those who are grey in a world seeking black and white conveniences. It is “XXY’s” creative subtitles in spite of its daring plot that captures the emotions of the audience without sensationalism. As such, it should come as no surprise that the film has already garnered critical praise and numerous awards. Puenzo’s debut has been honored as the winner of the Cannes Film Festival Critics Week’s coveted Grand Prize, and also won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Foreign Feature at Outfest, as well as the Audience Award at Frameline.

“XXY” opens Friday, August 15, 2008 and runs through Thursday, August 21, 2008 atLandmark’s Nuart Theatre, 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles (310) 281-8223 Showtimes: Fri-Sun at 12:30, 2:50 5:10, 7:30, 9:50; Mon-Thu at 5:10, 7:30, 9:55. For more information visit http://www.landmarktheatres.com


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