Review: XXY

XXY addresses the multifaceted needs inherent to father-child relations.

Photo: Film Movement

There’s a secret at the heart of XXY, but the real mystery is why writer-director Lucía Puenzo insists on unnecessary symbolic gestures for a story otherwise told with delicacy, restraint, and maturity. At a seaside Uruguayan village, 15-year-old Alex (Ines Efron) and her parents have their self-imposed isolation interrupted by the arrival of a surgeon, Ramiro (Germán Palacios), his wife Erika (Carolina Pelereti), and their son Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky). Alex and Alvaro strike up an uneasy, highly charged friendship that develops into something more complex when the boy discovers the reason behind Alex’s strange behavior and alienation from the community: she’s a hermaphrodite. Puenza inundates her tale with water-creature imagery (including shots of hermaphroditic clownfish) and names Alex’s father, marine biologist Kraken (Ricardo Darin), after the mythic giant squid, decisions that fail to enhance the already pressing sense that Alex’s unique physical condition engenders confusion and anger (in her) as well as curiosity and unease (in others). Fortunately, the film’s treatment of its central subject is otherwise devoid of such decorative touches, turning a compassionate eye toward both Alex and Kraken’s parallel attempts to come to grips with a situation that—because Alex has stopped taking medication and, thus, will soon begin a process of “masculinization”—is quickly coming to a head. Puenzo’s portrait of sex/gender definition is suitably prickly and non-judgmental even though, at times, the story seems incapable of truly getting underneath Alex’s skin, remaining an external observer to her inner tumultuousness. Nonetheless, if it ultimately falls short of providing a first-person view on its protagonist’s circumstances, the director’s debut remains a quite empathetic saga about the bonds shared by children and parents. Tacked-on tension concerning Alvaro and his callous father Ramiro aside, the film locates affecting pathos in the dynamic between Kraken and Alex, the latter desperate for acceptance of a parental and self-established sort, and the former wracked by shame, a fear of powerlessness, and anxiety over choosing a proper course for his child. With stirring sensitivity, XXY addresses the multifaceted needs inherent to father-child relations, closing on a simple sight of an arm around a shoulder that subtly but powerfully encapsulates the virtues of faith, loyalty, and empowerment.

 Cast: Ricardo Darin, Ines Efron, Martin Piroyanski, Germán Palacious, Carolina Pelereti  Director: Lucía Puenzo  Screenwriter: Lucía Puenzo  Distributor: Film Movement  Running Time: 90 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2007  Buy: Video

Nick Schager

Nick Schager is the entertainment critic for The Daily Beast. His work has also appeared in Variety, Esquire, The Village Voice, and other publications.

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