JWR Articles: Film/DVD - XXY (Director/Screenwriter: Lucía Penzo) - May 31, 2008
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XXY

4 4
91 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Inside Out Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival
Unfinished business

Countless millions stumble through life wondering just who they are, what their purpose is and how they “fit” with billions of others. A smaller subset have uncertain feelings as to their sexuality and choose to confront, acknowledge then move on, deny, repress and live lies or just end it all, letting their survivors clean up the mess. But perhaps the most puzzled of all are those whose outward bodies say one thing while their hormones and hearts rage in the opposite direction. No worries there: a trip to the pharmacy, some very selective surgery and everything’s soon back to “normal.”

Based on Sergio Bizzio’s short story, “Cinismo,” first-time director/screenwriter Lucía Puenzo has crafted a beautifully told tale of the inner turmoil and societal scorn (driven by fear and ignorance) that teenage hermaphrodites face. Wisely, the dialogue is kept to the minimum, permitting the screen to fill with many silent moments of emotional power that are just long enough to allow the audience to truly walk in the principals’ shoes. Totally in tune with Puenzo’s vision are Natasha Braier’s sympathetic camera and small but effective musical underpinnings (notably the harp during the film and the haunting “sex noir,” clarinet-rich credits track that sum up the drama’s end almost as effectively as the more-than-competent cast) from Andrés Goldstein and Daniel Tarrab.

Inés Efron as the troubled/tormented Alex turns in a bravura performance that is at once courageous (revealing her own body with an honesty that never feels cheap) and overflowing with glances of deep understanding that belie her young years but brilliantly demonstrate her character’s total insight into the minds and desires of all who cross her path. Chief amongst those is her new housemate, Álvaro (Martin Piroyansky seems ideal in his own confused state). Just a year older, the son of a plastic surgeon (Germán Palacios) at first rebuffs the apparent tomboy’s forwardness (“let’s fuck”) only to finally succumb and be unexpectedly bottomed by the slightly breasted, more-than-sufficiently hung date who immediately redefines the term “versatile.”

More than coincidentally, Alex’s dad (Ricardo Darin) manages to arrive at the top of the stairs just in time to view this life-altering coupling, surprising them all and causing his mortified/super-excited guest to dash into the woods in shock and shame. Well, er, not quite. In another brilliant scene of wordless plot development, the violated young man drops his trousers and beats himself off into happy oblivion as he savours every minute of his initiation into an activity that dare not speak its name.

The rest of the cast merely come and go to keep the storyline on track. Best friend Vando (Luciano Nobile) hasn’t taken well to the news that Alex has body parts from both genders and ends up with a busted nose (much later, their makeup scene, with the doleful Álvaro looking on longingly, features the reconciled buds performing a full-arch duo pee on the beach). A boat full of trouble only serves to ratchet up the humiliation quota when a trio of thrill-seeking (“Let’s see what you’ve got”) cowards attack Alex in the dunes for their own private peep show. Incongruously, young Vando appears from nowhere and dispatches the bullying voyeurs with nary a scratch.

By the time the subplot of choice (Álvaro’s folks are also sharing the house, invited by Alex’s mom to offer advice on or render any surgical interventions that might “fix” her daughter/son) is resolved, the good doctor is relieved to know that by Álvaro’s demonstration of an interest in the girl Alex, his “I was worried you’re a fag” suspicions are obviously unfounded—easily the funniest line of the show.

Yet it’s the final farewell that delivers the knockout, if internally subdued emotional punch. Alone for the last time, Alex finishes all of their business in a typically open manner whose truth finally shows the hapless youth that his journey of discovery is just beginning and that Alex knew that from the moment she/he set eyes on him what its route would be. JWR

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