Middlesex, Part Dos: Genital Ambiguity in Argentina

Directed by Lucía Puenzo
Written by Sergio Bizzio and Lucía Puenzo
Starring Ricardo Darín, Valeria Bertuccelli, Germán Palacios, Carolina Pelleritti, Martín Piroyansky, Inés Efron

Lucía Puenzo’s XXY, from her own screenplay (in Spanish with English subtitles), is based on a short story by her husband, Sergio Bizzio. As Ms. Puenzo describes the genesis of her film, “From the moment I read the story—the sexual awakening of a young girl who has what doctors call genital ambiguity—I couldn’t take it out of my head. I began to write with that image in my head: the body of a young woman with both sexes in one same body. I was especially interested in the dilemma of inevitable choice: not only having to choose between being a man or a woman, but also having to choose that binary decision, or intersex, as an identity and not as a place of mere passage.”

XXY may be the first fictional film to deal with the “intersex”—apart from its misleading analogies with transsexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality—by the absence of medical intervention or “mutilation” at birth. This is eventually one of the dramatic issues Ms. Puenzo brings up in the film, without even pretending to know all the answers to the perplexing questions raised by chromosomal confusion in the newborn.

Alex (Inés Efron) is a 15-year-old girl who was born and remains an intersex child, with both male and female genitalia. She lives with her parents, Kraken (Ricardo Darín) and Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli). As Alex begins to explore her strange sexuality, her mother invites guests from Buenos Aires to come for a visit to their remote home on the scenic Uruguayan shore. The visitors are not particularly welcomed by Kraken, inasmuch as he originally fled from Buenos Aires to escape idle curiosity about his daughter’s sexuality. As it happens, the visiting husband, Ramiro (Germán Palacios), is a cosmetic surgeon. His wife, Erika (Carolina Pelleritti), and their awkward adolescent son, Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky), seem agreeable enough. Still, Kraken—who has never wanted his daughter to be ashamed of her body—suspects that his own wife has a secret agenda to “normalize” their daughter’s sexual identity.

Indeed, the emotional power of the film is encapsulated in the scenes between Alex and Kraken, and between Alvaro and his own much less supportive father. XXY is thus primarily an emotional confrontation between parents and children. The interaction of the two generations is occasionally rambunctious and tumultuous, but singularly without malice. What is emphasized throughout is the unending vulnerability of the characters to the inescapable consequences of a bizarre accident of nature.

In Ms. Puenzo’s own words, her film is concerned with “the freedom of choice, identity and desire.” Toward this end, the sensitive performances, especially Mr. Darín’s as Kraken, Ms. Efron’s as Alex, and Mr. Piroyansky’s as Alvaro, contribute enormously to the success of this expedition into a troubled area of human existence. Hence, XXY fully deserves the honor it has received already as the 2008 Cannes Film Critics Week’s Grand Prix winner, and the honor it seeks to receive: Argentina’s official selection for the 2008 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition to its having been invited to film festivals worldwide, XXY is a selection of MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “New Directors, New Films” series. So see it not only because it works as an exquisitely tendered emotional experience, but also because it is the first cinematic treatment in fictional form of a taboo-breaking ticklish subject.

Middlesex, Part Dos: Genital Ambiguity in Argentina