Don't Look Now: A Gender-Bending Teen Drama Plays with the Viewer's Role as Voyeur

By Gilbey, Ryan | New Statesman (1996), May 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Don't Look Now: A Gender-Bending Teen Drama Plays with the Viewer's Role as Voyeur


Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)


XXY (15)

dir: Lucia Puenzo

To be he or not to be he? That is the question facing a young hermaphrodite in the beguiling Argentinian drama XXY (released on 9 May). It would be damning with faint praise to call this the best intersex film of the year--chances are it's the only one, unless there is a big surprise in store in the next James Bond outing.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The 15-year-old Alex (Ines Efron), who lives on an island near Uruguay, has been raised as female by her overprotective father (Ricardo Darin) and anxious mother (Valeria Bertuccelli). But now she has quit the hormone pills that have maintained her appearance of femininity, and skulks around in her hoodie. (How curious to see the UK's national dress adopted as a statement of indeterminate gender.)

This coincides with the arrival of some family friends, one of whom is Ramiro (German Palacios), a plastic surgeon keen to stabilise Alex's gender definitively. The doctor is accompanied by his teenage son, Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky), who has not been briefed about Alex's physical idiosyncrasies. Alvaro raises an eyebrow when he notices his father's choice of holiday reading (Origins of Gender, rather than the latest Wilbur Smith) but nothing prepares him for the tomboy who bowls up after he arrives and accuses him of having recently masturbated.

Following that ice-breaker, Alex proposes sex. When they do eventually get to roll in the hay, Alvaro is in for a shock. But then, so are we: the lad turns out to rather enjoy himself, leaving Alex to deal with his amorous attentions when she was fully expecting some kind of fracas or fallout instead. The youngsters--who also include Vando (Luciano Nobile), Alex's best friend until she gave him a black eye, and Roberta (Ailin Salas), to whom she flees in times of trouble--are constantly behaving in this spontaneous, sparky way, while the adults brood and lament.

This invariably means that the parents feel less clearly defined, although Palacios, as Ramiro, gets one jaw-dropping scene in which he is devastatingly frank about his opinion of his son. And Darin is often magical as Alex's father, a marine biologist who, for all his concerns, regards his daughter as part of nature's miraculous fabric. …

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