by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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XXY is a brilliant, poignant story of 15-year-old Alex, played by Ines Efron, who was born a hermaphrodite, or a person with both male and female genitalia. The problem the family faces is whether Alex should have surgery and choose a gender. I must note that the movie refers to Alex as an “intersex” person.
The film’s title refers to Klinefelter’s Syndrome that presents that males have an extra X sex chromosome.
Her father, Darin, played by Nestor Kraken, is happy with Alex as she is, and I use the word “she” because it seems that since Alex has been forced to choose one gender over the over, she’s primarily feminine in appearance, so she goes with Alex, as in Alexandria.
But life for Alex is certainly not as simple as just choosing by which gender to call herself.
Her mom, Suli, played by Valeria Bertuccelli, has invited a renowned plastic surgeon from Buenos Aires to come visit, and he shows up with his wife and a young son Alvaro, played by Martin Piroyanski, who is 16 years old.
Alex has just gone thru some issues with the local townspeople, as her family has moved to a picturesque seaside community in Uruguay, where they think they’d be isolated and live peacefully with their own decisions to ponder.
But Alex has recently revealed herself to an associate, and word started spreading around town. This creates many more problems, and at one point Alex is assaulted by a bunch of boys who insist that she shows them her penis.
Alex is experiencing a flux of emotions. You sense that she just wants to be left alone. The fact that her mother has invited the surgeon into the home presents some issues, as the father is happy to go along as it is, because at least his daughter is at peace, although she has decided to stop taking hormones that would prevent further masculine qualities, like hair growing on her face. She also makes it clear that she wishes the townspeople would just see her as a person and wonders why people’s curiosities are piqued about what’s under her pants.
Life takes an interesting turn, after Alex and the young guest have sex while they were out one day. Sex actually takes place, with Alex entering the young man anally; now more people are confused. But Alvaro seems to be falling for Alex, and Alex is falling for him as well.
This enrages Alex’s father. He at first seems to be detached from the family; a bit angry, I’d suggest. But later, I get the impression that the anger is really aimed toward his wife, because she invited the surgeon into the home.
But the fact that Alvaro likes Alex pleases his father, because he was beginning to think that Alvaro was gay.
Darin’s relationship with his daughter Alex is one of protection; in that he either doesn’t want her to change anything about her body, or he wants her to be able to decide for herself. At one time, I was convinced that maybe he viewed her as a son; thereby having that father-son relationship.
First time director Lucia Puenzo is quoted as saying about her film: “[The film has] created a debate on what seems almost impossible in our societies: an intersex body that has not been mutilated, and not only survives but demands the opportunity to be desired. Who decides, after all, that there are only two ways to be human? Many intersex friends have told me they like the film not because of the idea of freedom of choice that many people saw in it, but because of the place the film gives to desire. And I agree: it’s not enough to say we should respect any body and any sexual identity. The film includes to this the possibility that anybody (a virgin like Alvaro in this case) could fall in love and be aroused by a body like Alex’s. Perlongher, one of my favourite poets, used to say ‘We do not want respect, we want to be desired.’ The search of an identity (not only sexual) is vital in the live of everybody.”
XXY is distributed by Film Movement, and it was a celebrated selection at the 2007 Cannes Film Fest. It’s available on DVD October 14, 2008. For more info: visit www.filmmovement.com
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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