Sometimes, a simple narrative is best. It seems that the complex subject of intersexuality would lend itself to something more intricate. What’s so good about director Lucia Puenzo’s “XXY” is that the story is simple and deeply nuanced. It’s layered and frank, with a downcast tone. Above all, it’s a compassionate meditation on otherness and growing up.
Broken down, the story is this: After moving to a seaside village in Uruguay, a 15-year-old intersex girl, Alex (Ines Efron, “Volley”), stops taking her medication. Her father Nestor (Ricardo Darin, “Koblic”) and mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli, “Me case con un boludo”) are upset, as they want their daughter to be “normal.” But what’s normal and what isn’t quickly blurs.
Normality in “XXY” is a desperate search. Alex searches for her identity, a journey her parents try to control, refusing to search themselves for acceptance. Her alienation is a hard thing to watch. Especially now, with intersex and transgender issues at the forefront of civil rights, the movie feels timely.
Even more, it isn’t exploitative. Alex’s intersexuality is central to the narrative, but director Puenzo treats it with humanity and sensitivity. Alex isn’t reduced to her body parts. She is a complex human being with hopes and desires. These hopes and desires, however, often clash with the ones her parents hold.
The way in which she breaks away from parental expectations can be frightening. Thanks to a powerful performance from Ines Efron, it’s clear that the long-suffering Alex wants nothing but peace. The chemistry between her and Darin and Bertuccelli is indelible. They’re a real family, through and through. However misguided Nestor and Suli may be, they still love their daughter.
Despite tight direction and a quick pace, “XXY” sometimes plays a heavy hand. Alex’s fish tank, for example, is populated with clownfish. Clownfish are born male and become female. The fact that Alex takes care of them shows how deeply she wants to understand herself. It’s just too obvious of a trope to work well, but it’s passable.
“XXY” isn’t your typical coming-of-age tale. It’s one befitting the current social climate. It is an immensely important watch. Ham-handed symbolism aside, “XXY” rides on the direction of Puenzo and the excellent performances of its cast. While, to some, Alex’s experience may feel distant and hard to understand, “XXY” makes it clear that her experience is anything but.
Director: Lucia Puenzo
Release date: June 14, 2007