Lucía Puenzo’s XXy is a mature
and intelligent reflection on the dilemmas of ‘intersexuality’
Lucía Puenzo, Argentina
2007 (Spanish with English subtitles), Historias Cinematograficas Cinemania/Pyramide/Wanda Visión
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: ****
THE FIRST feature film by Argentinean writer Lucía Puenzo considers the questions and dilemmas of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite trying to assert herself as an individual in a hostile and bigoted environment, and has become a catalyst for public debate about the subject.
XXy, which some discussion groups have criticised for being an inaccurate and distorted portrayal of people today referred to as “intersex”, does not intend to present a clinical case or to call for solidarity with this group, but is a highly intelligent way of forcing the spectator to ask if sexuality is determined by the genitals or, as Gore Vidal once declared, a question of personal choice.
The main character, Alex (Inés Efron), is a reticent 15-year-old girl living in an isolated port on the border of Argentina and Uruguay who, at first, makes the viewer believe her moody temperament is merely the result of the hormonal and physical changes experienced by any girl undergoing puberty.
Her mother has some old friends staying at the house whose son, Álvaro – a quiet boy of Alex’s age – Alex decides to experience sex with. The boy is shocked by this proposal, but curious and also attracted to her.
The plot, based on a story by Sergio Bizzio, unravels the secret of a girl surviving societal rejection by switching between the hardness perceived as a male attribute and the fragility attributed by society only to females.
Alex’s loving mother believes that her daughter’s body has somehow failed, and tries hard to delay the girl’s transition into a man by pushing her to take hormones every day.
Her father, by contrast, is a scientist interested in living creatures and more accepting of his daughter’s condition. He takes matters in his own hands after he discovers Alex and Álvaro in the act – in which Álvaro discovers both love but also something he had not known about himself until then.
Puenzo’s portrayal of the small-minded, circus mentality of the male-dominated community surrounding the main character is well constructed and plays well with the analogies, and Inés Efron portrays Alex in a sensitive and intuitive way. Not only does she manage to paint a credible picture of a mind changing with age, but also presents intelligently an individual’s struggle to resist being perceived as one more weird creature in the zoo of life.
Generally, little is still known about intersexuality, but what transpires from discussion groups is a desire for recognition of the realities of this kind of sexuality – both as a biomedical and a social phenomenon.
Despite all the criticisms of it, and to its great merit, XXy contributes significantly to this debate, explaining why it was chosen to represent Argentina at the Oscars, for the Best Foreign Language Film category and was also chosen to represent the country at Spain’s Goya Awards, for Best Foreign Film in Spanish.