"XXY" is, in the best possible sense of the word, an awkward film. Not only because its protagonist, Alex (the remarkable Inés Efron), is just 15 -- that most awkward of ages under the best of circumstances -- but also because it dwells on sands of constantly shifting doubt and confusion.
Alex is an intersex child. Born with male and female genitalia, Alex passes as a tomboyish girl in a small fishing village in Uruguay, where her Argentine parents, Kraken and Suli (Ricardo Darín and Valeria Bertuccelli), have so far managed to avoid the rude comments and stares they encountered in their native Buenos Aires, where Alex was born. That is, until Alex punches out her best friend, Vando (Luciano Nobile), breaking his nose.
It isn't hard to guess what he might have said to tick Alex off.
As the film opens, Suli has invited Ramiro (Germán Palacios), a surgeon friend of hers, for a visit. It is, of course, more than a social call. Suli would like Ramiro to consider operating on Alex, presumably to remove the penis that has started to become a source of vulgar speculation among Alex's sexually curious peers. Kraken, on the other hand, believes that any decision should be Alex's alone. Complicating matters is the arrival of Ramiro's teenage son, Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky), who slowly develops a bit of a crush on Alex.
And that's after he discovers that Alex has the same equipment he does, in a sexual encounter guaranteed to be something you haven't seen before. As is characteristic of this visually beautiful film, it's tastefully done. We're never shown Alex's unusual anatomy, but the surprising nature of the encounter is overshadowed by the surprising way other characters react to it. Chiefly Kraken, who, after catching Alex and Alvaro in flagrante, almost immediately starts to refer to Alex as "my son" instead of "my daughter."
At heart, "XXY" is about the relationship between Kraken and Alex.
"You're perfect," Kraken tells Alex in one of their tenuous and tender -- yet never mawkish -- talks. In its own uncomfortable way, so is "XXY."
-- Michael O'Sullivan (Aug. 15, 2008)
Contains sexual themes and scenes, partial nudity, crude language and an attempted assault. In Spanish with subtitles.