Shattering XXY a timely melodrama
|Shattering XXY a timely melodrama|
by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN Contributing Writer
Opening September 26
One of the more intriguing and thought-provoking titles to screen during the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival, the Argentine drama XXY offers up a melodrama unlike anything else we've seen this year. The tale of 15-year-old Alex (Inés Efron), an intersex adolescent suddenly curious about her sexuality, this movie doesn't pull punches and seldom flinches from the complexly unsettling aspects of its storyline. While not entirely successful, this is still an honest depiction of a complicated issue I hope people take the time to see.
Set on the gorgeously picturesque Uruguayan shore, the plot concerns Alex's parents Kraken (Ricardo Darín) and Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) as they spend the weekend with Ramiro (Germán Palacios), a noted Buenos Aires plastic surgeon, and his wife Erika (Carolina Pelleritti). With them is their 16-year-old son, Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky), and when he starts to develop a sudden attraction towards Alex, both families are suddenly forced to face their fears in regards to their respective children.
Based on a short story by noted Argentinean writer Sergio Bizzio, one of the things I liked most about writer/director Lucía Puenzo's debut feature is just how frankly she deals with the inherent sexuality of the piece. Sometimes this is incredibly uncomfortable, a second-act moment of discovery and a climactic near-rape of one character so fiercely unnerving I admit to having to turn away from the screen in terrified disgust. Yet, this is exactly the type of uncompromising observational verisimilitude this movie requires, the whole thing building to an extremely powerful coda it never would have achieved without it.
Not that it doesn't go off into some pretty odd directions I'm not entirely sure were necessary. Scenes of Alex showering with a friend add nothing other than to reconfirm all we already know while also feeling sadly puerile and needlessly titillating, while many of Suli's scenes seem to exist in a vacuum and are only around just so that the poor woman and worried mother has something to do.
But the most jarring moment has to be one between Alvaro and Ramiro towards the end. The whole scene is magnificently acted by the two and the lines each of them said hit me like an onslaught of roundhouses to the gut. Yet, what they are talking about knocks the film completely off-track, and as poignant and as devastating as the scene is, seeing as it comes so late and feels so out of place, I'd rather Puenzo had just excised it from the finished project completely.
The central story, especially as it relates to both Alex and Kraken, is such a stunner that none of these flaws take things as far off-course as they probably could have. Darín, in particular, has a series of magnificent scenes as complex and as astonishing as anything this year. I felt this man's pain, reveled in his undying love for his child, and wept for his unyielding desire to see her find some semblance of happiness. He only wants the best for Alex, and seeing him educate himself and seek out advice from those who truly understand his dilemma is incredibly poignant.
It almost goes without saying that young Efron is also quite good here. In all honesty, for this picture to even remotely be considered a success it kind of goes without saying that she would have to be, and to say that the actress delivers is maybe a tiny bit of an understatement. As written, Alex isn't always the easiest person to like (even when taking her predicament into consideration), yet Efron always makes the youngster relatable, and whether a person has any knowledge of the issues deliberated here or no the adolescent angst on display is immediately universal no matter what the viewer's background. What might be the greatest thing about XXY, however, is that it absolutely refuses to judge. More, Puenzo never feels obliged to bow to the clichés of the genre, instead allowing her picture to ebb and flow like all of this was happening for real. Alex's gender shouldn't be forced upon her, the ultimate decision entirely up to her (or, if she so decides in the future, him), and wondering whether or not Kraken and Suli will allow their child the time to make that decision is probably the film's central and most intriguing mystery. It almost goes without saying that there is a larger debate here. Many of the larger issues surrounding the nature of gender, children and society can only be hinted at when they are constrained within the confines of a 90-minute movie. But this film does a fantastic job of starting the discussion, and even if the answers might still be beyond us, the fact that we're at least starting to talk about them makes XXY worthy of a recommendation on that point alone.