Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie – XXY (2007)

XXY was Argentina’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008, although it didn’t make it to the final nominations.  It did win its home country’s Silver Condor (Best Picture), as well as Spain’s Goya (Best Foreign Film), and a host of other countries’ and festivals' Best Picture awards.  I say all of this because I had never heard of this film until it showed up as a “new to DVD” movie in Netflix.  Luckily I decided to watch it and discovered a great performance from a young actress named Ines Efron.

She plays Alex, a 15 year old “true hermaphrodite” – someone who has both male and female genitals.  For the last few decades when a child has been born with what doctors term “ambiguous genitalia” surgery was usually performed to “correct” this situation.  Recently there has been some change of mind on this practice, saying that there is no way that parents would be able to tell what gender their child will identify with when they grow up, so therefore this surgery is wrong.  (A lot more can be found on this real topic here.)  Alex’s parents decide to wait to have the surgery done.

A few notes: 

  1. The term “hermaphrodite”, while scientifically accurate, is now considered offensive by people.  The politically correct term is “intersex”.  Like many politically correct terms it inaccurately describes the person.  A hermaphrodite is not “between” genders, but spans both genders.  A better term would have been “intrasex”. 
  2. The movie title is not scientifically accurate.  Someone who has XXY chromosomes would not usually be intersex, nor would an intersex person usually have XXY chromosomes.  If you look at the movie poster carefully, though, you can see that the “Y” is actually an “X” with a piece broken off of it, symbolic for the character of Alex who isn’t sure if she feels like a boy or a girl.
  3. I wasn’t sure what pronouns to use when referring to Alex in this post, but every article I saw about this film refers to Alex as “her”, so I will do the same.
Alex’s parents are Argentinean, but have moved to Uruguay to a village by the sea.  This is because Alex’s father Nestor (Ricardo Darin) is a marine biologist, but also to be in a place where no one knows about Alex.  This isn’t because they are ashamed of her, but rather to protect her from people who will either treat her badly, or assume wrong things about her.

Alex is outwardly a young female, but this has been accomplished through the use of hormone medication to suppress her secondary male attributes (i.e. starting to grow a beard.)  Unbeknownst to her parents, though, Alex has recently stopped taking her medication.  She is not as certain as her parents that she identifies wholly as a girl.

It was really the father that wanted to put off Alex’s surgery until she could make a decision for herself.  Alex’s mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) would have preferred to have had it done back when Alex was born, but acquiesced to her husband’s wishes.  In the present she invites a family she knows from Argentina to come visit them.  The father is a surgeon and the real reason Suli invited him is to discuss surgery for Alex now.  Neither Alex nor Nestor is aware of this.

That family brings with them a teenage son named Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky).  He and Alex become friends.  They are both curious about sex and Alvaro may be in for a surprise.  Meanwhile, Nestor finds out what his wife’s agenda is and this causes friction.  He decides to take Alex to meet an intersex person who had recently written a book on his experiences.  He was in a similar situation as Alex where he was raised as a girl, but found himself starting to identify more as male when he hit his teens.

Things come to a head when all these various secrets about Alex, her parents, and Alvaro come out into the open.

I mentioned at the top that Ines Efron really impressed me with her performance.  She won several Best Actress awards for her effort in this film.  It would have been easy for a young woman to just play the role of someone who’s both male and female as simply a “butch” girl, or to be overly feminine one minute then overly masculine the next.  Efron doesn’t do that.  She really accomplishes a nice blend of attributes.  Perhaps the best way to describe the character of Alex is “kind of a tomboy”.

This movie will push a lot of buttons for some people.  In addition to the main plot about being intersex, there are also scenes that could be interpreted as homosexual by some, and there is a scene where Alex’s teenage female friend, when asked by Alex if she’s ever had sex, shyly confesses that her cousin “made her do it” the first time, but now she likes doing it with him.  This isn’t a movie to watch if you are easily offended about sexual issues.

Overall, the movie does a good job of presenting a situation that I wasn’t even really aware of.  It treats it with respect, but doesn’t go overboard on sentimentality.  The real reason to see it, for me, is Efron’s performance in the film.  Unless you feel you will be offended by this topic, then I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. Despite the inaccuracies, this movie sounds fascinating to me. I am mostly interested in its handling of how a young person and his/her family adapt to this situation and how it shapes a person's sexuality and sense of identity. Since it won awards, I'm guessing it's well done. Or did it win awards mostly for taking on an "edgy" topic? What do you think?

    1. I feel it did a good job of showing how someone like this would need to try to figure out their place in the world. Every teenager does that, now imagine having to even figure out what gender you feel you identify with. My guess is it's a combination of both. It's certainly not just a "controversial movie for the sake of controversy". If anything, they do a great job (and Ines Efron does a great job) of establishing that Alex is her own person who is facing some tough situations. She's not just a two dimensional character.

    2. Thanks, Chip! I will definitely look for this film.

  2. Nice Review, Chip. I thought this was a very captivating film. Ines Efron was, in fact, fantastic! Keep up the good work!