Rating: A-/ Raw and heartfelt, XXY is a film about sex and gender identity that might be a little too weird for some people, but filmmaker Lucia Puenzo somehow makes a story with the utmost potential for awkwardness work and tells it in a very natural, unforced way. Fifteen-year-old Alex (Ines Efron) has a secret; she is intersexed, born with both male and female genitals (the more common term, but less tactful one, is ‘hermaphrodite’) and her parents (Ricardo Darin and Valeria Bertuccelli) have revolved their lives around keeping her gender identity a secret from the people in the small seaside Argentinean town in which they live.
One day a surgeon (German Palacios) and his wife and sixteen-year-old son come to stay at the house with the ultimate intention of operating on Alex and removing her unneeded male parts. The brazen and sexually adventurous Alex goes about immediately trying to seduce the son, Alvero (Martin Piroyansky), a quiet, artistic type, and Alex acts in a sexually loose manner before finally initiating a, er, rear-entry situation with the young man, putting her extra genitalia to good use.
Alvero initially doesn’t know what hit him, but later confesses he enjoyed the experience, and Alex must decide if living permanently as a woman even as she feels the urge to explore her identity as a gay man is really what she wants, or if the choice is ultimately anyone else’s but her own. Rebelling against her parents, Alex stops taking the medication that will keep her from growing body hair and other male attributes. Meanwhile, Alvero yearns for validation from his dad, who’s actually kind of a dick, and Alex attracts the attention of some local ruffians.
The plot sounds like something impossibly bizarre and squirmy, but you’d actually be surprised how sensitive and well-handled it is. Alex has been reminded her whole life that she’s not like other people, and as a result constantly plays the part of the ‘weird girl’, invading people’s body space and making sexually inappropriate comments. Although Ines Efron certainly doesn’t appear to be anything other than an attractive young lady, otherwise she nails the role, with a good deal of compassion and range. All the actors do a good job in their respective roles, and the characters are compelling and well-drawn.
I can’t say I really liked Alex, exactly, but I feel like I understood her, at least to some extent. XXY asks the ethical question of whether parents of intersexed children should just have them operated on as soon as possible or whether they should ultimately leave the choice up to the child, when he/she is old enough to decide. Alex’s parents mean well, but they’ve neglected to ask their daughter what she wants for herself rather than make big decisions for her and insist on keeping her odd condition under wraps. As a result, Alex grows up feeling kind of like a sideshow exhibit, and feels like nothing is really in her control.
Some people might feel this movie is too low-key or be bored by the scenes of contemplative silence and quietly spoken dialogue, but fans of foreign films and art house oddities should understand what the film is trying to accomplish. XXY is a must-watch for those who are interested in gender identity, and the ways in which it defines a person (as well as the ways it doesn’t.)