"Darin... again proves that he can break your heart with a look, conveying unspoken emotion with a glance that taps you into his pain."

The potential for this film to go very wrong was great. After all, hermaphroditism – more commonly referred to as intersexuality these days – is a subject that could easily end up being played for its ‘freak’ value. That XXY explores the issue carefully from the emotional viewpoint, without being exploitative makes it all the more remarkable when you consider that this is Lucía Puenzo’s directorial debut.

Alex (Inés Efron, reminiscent of a very young Sigourney Weaver) is a typical moody teenager, mooching about with her pals in Uruguay. Although not immediately addressed, it soon becomes apparent that she has an additional emotional problem to contend with – she (or quite possibly, he) is intersex.

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The family have moved to Uruguay to protect their daughter but, as she begins to develop sexually, they find they can no longer sweep the issue under the carpet. Alex’s mother Suli (Valeria Bertuchelli) invites some family friends to stay, with an ulterior motive, since Ramiro (German Palacios) is a plastic surgeon, who she hopes may ‘normalise’ their daughter. Dad Kraken (Ricardo Darin) is blissfully unaware of this initially and, though grappling with his daughter’s ‘problem’ himself, is angered by the thought of anyone cutting her up. “There’s too many endangered species already,” he says with an air of finality.

When Alex strikes up a relationship with Ramiro’s son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky) - also grappling with his own issues of sexuality - it sets their parents on course for conflict and Alex on a road littered with tough choices.

Struggle and angst lie at the centre of the movie but also the strong emotional bond between parent and child. In addition, there is a debate about choice and nature and, of course, the nature of choice. Darin - excellent in last year’s El Aura - again proves that he can break your heart with a look, conveying unspoken emotion with a glance that taps you into his pain. Efron also proves she is one to watch as she gives Alex’s emotional turmoil a subtlety, managing to capture both the precociousness of a teen on the verge of a sexual awakening and the awkwardness and insecurity of the child not quite left behind.

Puenzo proves an able director, her muted blue colour palette is well-chosen to mirror the emotions and her frequent long shots of the waves and beach create a compelling atmosphere. Although some of the imagery used is perhaps a tad OTT – the idea of Dad being called Kraken, for example, recalling the monster of the deep – for the most part the script is kept refreshingly simple. This perfectly suits a film in which characters are grappling with issues they can’t even explain properly to themselves, let alone explain to others and the simple and Puenzo's direct camera style means that moments of shared silence linger on in the memory.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2007
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Coming of age drama about an intersex teen.
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Director: Lucía Puenzo

Writer: Lucía Puenzo

Starring: Inés Efron, Ricardo Darín, Valeria Bertuccelli, Martín Piroyansky, Germán Palacios, Lucas Escariz, Luciano Nóbile, Carolina Pelleritti

Year: 2007

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Argentina, France, Spain

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