Review: XXY

Inés Efron and Ricardo Darín in XXY

XXY is a 2007 film from Argentina about an intersex teen. The language and knowledge around the topic of intersex persons has advanced in the 10 years since the film, but it is still a beautiful and sensitive story.

According to the Wikipedia article on Klinefelter syndrome, the medical term for people with two or more X chromosomes, XXY individuals are often considered male. But in this film, young Alex was raised as female. Her family considers her female and uses female pronouns for her. Since the film uses female pronouns throughout, that’s what I’ll do here, too.

Alex is played wonderfully by Inés Efron. At 15, she decides for herself to stop taking the pills her parents have given her to suppress her masculinity. She’s very aware of the fact that she has a penis at the same time as she is developing breasts and a budding interest in sex.

Alex’s mother Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) wanted surgery for Alex the minute she was born. Suli invites her old friend with a plastic surgeon husband to their remote home on the coast of Uruguay. If Alex didn’t get the surgery Suli wanted as a baby, perhaps she’ll have it now.

The visitors bring their son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Alex’s first conversation with him is to suggest they have sex.

Alvaro and Alex do eventually get around to sex, which has Alex mounting Alvaro from behind. Alvaro likes this very much. Alvaro’s emerging gayness creates an interesting subplot.

Alex’s father Kraken (Ricardo Darín) has always been more accepting of Alex than her mother. He wasn’t in favor of surgery before, and he now argues that 15 year old Alex should be allowed for herself to decide what she wants. Alex and her father are close, although their bond is fairly wordless. Perhaps they don’t have the words for what needs to be said. He comes the closest to understanding Alex of all the people in her life.

Her parents hesitate around using words for the issues facing Alex’s family. Her mother can’t say the words, her father can’t say the words. There’s much unspoken drama in XXY. Many ideas are expressed with imagery. A Barbie doll with a penis. Alex’s drawings of herself.

Everyone around Alex thinks a binary decision is in order. She must decide to grow into adulthood either as a man or a woman. Remaining intersex doesn’t enter anyone’s mind. Except Alex’s. Alex thinks she should be just what she is – there’s nothing wrong with her.

People in the nearby fishing village treat Alex horribly. Her friend Vando (Luciano Nóbile) gets his nose broken by Alex when he steps over the line. Three boys attack Alex on the beach. It feels like a rape, it’s filmed like a rape. It’s definitely an assault. They want to see what’s between Alex’s legs.

The film was directed by Lucía Puenzo, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles. It is available now on Netflix and Amazon Video.

XXY won a large number of awards when it was first released. It certainly deserved them. It’s an excellent film, well-acted and brilliantly directed.

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