Rereleased after becoming out of print due to the devastating fire that destroyed the Sony Warehouse during the London riots, Lucía Puenzo’s XXY (2007) is once again available in the UK. Starring Ricardo Darín, Ines Efron and Martin Piroyansky, Puenzo’s unabashed tale of sexual ambiguity and gender confusion is a profound and riveting examination of adolescent confusion.
Alex (Efron) is only 15-years-old, yet faces a life changing decision. Born a hermaphrodite, Alex’s parents have attempted to save her from ridicule by constantly moving from town to town, however, the time has finally arrived for them to decide whether or not to go through with an operation which, would give Alex the choice between which sex she will go through life as. The family invites a renowned plastic surgeon, with experience of such cases, to stay with them for the weekend. However, the arrival of the surgeon and his family (including his teenage son) culminates in palpable degree of tension within the household, whilst simultaneously enlightening Alex about her rare condition.
Thankfully this gently observed tale is far more concerned with the common issue of adolescent confusion and the fruitless search for acceptance by teenagers than it actually is with its central premise of androgyny. Acting as a far stronger allegory for sexual awakening and empowerment, Puenzo’s film works as a perfect bedfellow to Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy (2011), using sexual confusion to depict the far more universal issues of childhood insecurities and identity.
Efron is superb in the film’s lead role, approaching XXY’s demanding subject matter with an unabashed maturity that belies her tender age. The rest of the cast struggle to match her breathtaking performance, however, the presence of the always dependable Darín helps keep the dialogue between the elder cast members in check, acting as the driving force for the conflict which threatens to cause a rift between Alex’s family whilst simultaneously playing the dotting father with an endearingly natural approach.
Some unsubtle imagery sadly dilutes the film’s otherwise soft and delicate veneer and diminishes XXY’s more outrageous and scandalous moments. However, the prevailing sense of tension which haunts the film’s narrative more than makes up for these visual missteps, amplifying Alex’s emotional, torment ridden state and effectively engaging the audience in her predicament.
XXY’s lacks the controversy its sensitive subject matter initially suggests; yet thankfully this makes for a far more charming and beguiling tale of youthful inhibitions and teenage angst – a remarkably tactful and enthralling film that fully deserves a second reprise.
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