(director/writer: Lucia Puenzo; screenwriter: based on the short story Cinismo by Sergio Bizzio; cinematographer: Natasha Braier; editors: Alex Zito/Hugo Primero; music: Andrés Goldstein/ Daniel Tarrab; cast: Ricardo Darín (Kraken), Valeria Bertuccelli (Suli), Germán Palacios (Ramiro), Carolina Peleritti (Erika), Martín Piroyansky (Alvaro), Inés Efron (Alex), Luciano Nóbile (Vando); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Luis Puenzo/Jose María Morales; Film Movement; 2007-Argentina-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“The good news is that this is an intelligent drama that is in no way exploitative.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The film directorial debut of Lucia Puenzo is confident, auspicious and sobering, yet not completely satisfying. It’s based on the short story Cinismo by Sergio Bizzio. The tale is about the sexual awakening of 15-year-old female Alex (Inés Efron), who has a rare medical condition called genital ambiguity– having the body of a person with both sexes (born with both a penis and a vagina). To maintain being a female, Alex is treated with Corticord–a hormonal medication. The angst-ridden hermaphrodite, Alex, is suddenly bursting with an overflow of sexual energy due to hormonal changes and for the past two weeks has stopped taking her meds. She lives with her birth secret in a remote southern Uruguayan fishing village, in a humble isolated beach house, as her protective family, her sensitive marine biologist author father Nestor Kraken (Ricardo Darín) and her concerned mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli), moved there from Buenos Aires to get away from people who talk. The parents chose not to have Alex “normalized” at birth, the usual way of dealing with this problem for inter-sexed children. During this trying child-rearing period, the biologist has been actively studying and protecting the wild turtles that swim off the rugged coastal beaches of Uruguay and get trapped in the nets of fishermen (speaking of heavy-handed symbolism).

Unannounced to her husband, Suli invites her old friends from Argentina, plastic surgeon Ramiro (Germán Palacios), his wife Erika (Carolina Pelereti) and their 16-year-old son Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky), to visit. Ramiro is a well-respected surgeon specializing in fixing deformities and birth defects, and Suli hopes to confer with him about Alex to see if maybe an operation is indeed the best solution.

The concerned parents learn that Alex’s carefully kept secret has been leaked in the fishing village through her friend Vando, and as expected some of the ignorant local teen boys act as yahoos. Also, the anxious virgin Alex, in heat, seduces Alvaro into having rear-end sex (which makes clear the shy boy’s already apparent gay tendencies). His parents are upset at this blossoming relationship and leave the area at the first opportunity, while Alex’s protective parents hunker down and become more protective as they let her decide her own fate.

The good news is that this is an intelligent drama that is in no way exploitative, and there’s a terrific volatile performance by newcomer Efron–expressing her teen concerns about her identity crisis into universal terms. Otherwise the relationship between Alex and Alvaro is not fully developed for us to feel as much of their pain when they part as was intended and for all the tormenting about such strange sexual matters it’s still best seen as a family drama with its controversial subject matter infusing it with more urgency than the usual teen growing up problem.

The brooding and humorless tale, though not a clinical study, has the feel of one, yet still leaves a provocative bedeviling dramatic ambiguity that lingers after the story is wrapped up.

XXY comes with a string of assorted awards from such noted festivals as Cannes, Edinburgh and Toronto.

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