Written and directed by Lucía Puenzo
Based on the short story “Cinismo” by Sergio Bizzio
Available to stream on Fandor and Hulu (free with ads)
I almost didn’t review XXY because the subject matter is so difficult, but then I realized that’s kinda the point. If you’re uncomfortable with reflections on sexual orientation, don’t watch this movie. If the thought of an intersex person makes you giggle, stay away. If you cringe at the idea of young teenagers exploring their sexuality, this one’s not for you. But if you like compelling stories driven by human relationships, you’ll want to check this one out. XXY is a hard-hitting drama about teenage pain and anxiety. It is also a tender, compassionate portrait of a human being learning to love her family, herself, and the world around her.
The “her” I describe above is Alex, a 15-year-old who was born with both male and female sexual organs. Her parents decided not to have her operated on as an infant, but have raised her as a girl. Alex takes hormones to suppress her male organs, but has nonetheless experienced ridicule and psychological torment from her peers her entire life. This leads the family to a secluded seaside town in Uruguay. Alex’s father, Kraken, is a marine biologist and uses his new surroundings as an opportunity to collect data. It also affords Alex a life of relative seclusion, away from the doctors that she despises so much. But still she is unsettled, and begins to have doubts about who she really is.
Soon, visitors arrive on the island–a family. Erica, the mother, is a close friend of Alex’s mother. Along with Erica, perhaps unexpectedly, is her surgeon husband, Ramiro. We learn soon enough that Ramiro is not just there for a friendly visit. Kraken hopes to convince him to operate on Alex, removing her male anatomy, so that he can hold onto his “little girl” forever.
Erica and Ramiro also bring along their son, Alvaro, who is just about Alex’s age. The two start off awkwardly, then the relationship turns somewhat abrasive. Eventually they build a unique friendship. Alvaro reveals that he is gay, and Alex shares her situation with him in return. What follows is a series of sexual discoveries in which the two teenagers begin to question who they are and what they feel. There is nothing distasteful or repulsive about this relationship. Director Lucía Puenzo tells the story with such grace and sensitivity, that we see it for what it is–two young, confused people trying to discover what love is.
The relationship that develops between the two teenagers is powerful, but the most engaging relationship in the movie is between Kraken and Alex–the relationship between a father and his child. We learn that at some point Alex will be allowed to decide which sex she wants to live as for the rest of her life. Watching XXY, it is difficult for the viewer to put themselves in Alex’s place, to feel what she feels. But I imagine it’s quite easy to put yourself in the place of the father. Imagine what it’s like to raise a girl, love a girl, sacrifice for a girl, and then have all that threatened by the choices of said girl. Ricardo Darín’s performance as Kraken gave me chills. There is so much pain and fear buried within the character and the way we see it slowly surfacing is heartbreaking.
This is a difficult movie in many ways. It touches on issues that most people don’t want to think about, much less talk about. But it is an important film. It gives voice to an issue that Hollywood would never have the courage to treat fairly–without sensationalizing and without judgment. It doesn’t try to answer any questions, but it creates plenty in our minds and I can tell you that they really stick.