Some proponents of Queer Theory maintain that the concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality are arbitrary constructs whose usefulness will wear out, as people increasingly embrace fluid sexual identities that defy easy categorization. Argentinean filmmaker Lucía Puenzo’s extraordinarily sensitive coming-of-age drama, XXY, deftly explores the cruelties inherent in rigid labeling — in this case, the binary gender system.
XXY’s lead character, 15-year-old Alex (portrayed by Inés Efron), is beautiful, angry, horny, eccentric, and intersexed. Alex’s bewildered but loving parents have moved the family from Buenos Aires to a remote town on the Paraguayan coast, where they weigh their (and Alex’s) options. It would have been easy for Puenzo to make this mother and father either disgusted and ashamed or wholly accepting — on Lifetime, actually, there would have been one of each — but this is not that movie. XXY is a film of deep, strong color, and minute shifts in light, movement, and behavior. Its cinematography is beautiful, and the theme and setting of the sea — turbulent, fecund, mysterious, and home to various hermaphroditic creatures (this is not lost on Alex, who keeps an aquarium of intersexed fish) — all echo the idea that nature, particularly human nature (even love!), is more ambiguous and complex than we think.
The family is visited by friends they left behind in Buenos Aires: A mother, a father (also a reconstructive surgeon concerned about Alex’s “condition”), and Álvaro, their 16-year-old son, to whom Alex immediately and bluntly expresses erotic feelings. What follows, scene by scene, offers no easy answers, subscribes to no gender platitudes, and never speechifies, but instead uses deft filmcraft (particularly the cast’s meticulously detailed performances) to examine the elaborate and painful balancing act we all undergo in assuming a gender identity. Alex’s adolescence is tormented and blessed by a sort of double-puberty, a state of both suffering and grace in which all are desired and nothing is extraneous. S/he refuses to submit to medicalization of his/her intersexed body through hormones or surgery, embracing instead an increasing masculinity. Alex wants to be and feel everything possible in him/her, and Efron makes Alex’s obstinance both heroic and maddening; s/he’s imbued with the restlessness, hostility, and inchoate lonely longing that marks the behavior of any 15-year-old, which is both painful and fascinating to watch. And as Alex and Álvaro experience each other, with fumbling desire and confusion that is entirely relatable, we are reminded how simultaneously hurtful and healing first love is, no matter who you are.
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is reviving its Out at the Movies series by co-sponsoring the showing during CineFestival. Showing also is Hotel Gondolin, a stirring documentary about a community of transgendered sex workers living in a hotel squat in Buenos Aires (those Argentinians!) who take on City Hall. •
Out at the Movies:
LGBT Selections at CineFestival
XXY is showing on Friday at 7:30 with two LGBT-related shorts; check the schedule for more details.