XXY (Argentina-Spa-Fra / 2007)
*A 2008 (U.S.) Release*
In a recent article devoted to the copious virtues offered by the cinema of Lucrecia Martel, Argentine New Wave's most talented filmmaker, the inestimable American critic Kent Jones made an acute observation regarding the propensity in certain women directors to operate according to their own private rules, logic, timing, and sense of space. This, of course, applies to the work done by the best of them -- Martel, Claire Denis, Chantal Akerman, etc. But beyond that, over the years the unique textures of feminine sensibilities have enlivened many a hackneyed narrative. While one (thankfully) doesn't need to hurl such praise in the direction of the Buenos Aires-born thirtysomething Lucía Puenzo, who makes her feature directorial debut with XXY, her sensitive treatment of a difficult and, possibly, contentious subject matter could be linked back to female subjectivity.
Based on Sergio Bizzio's short story called Cinismo, the film concerns the sexual awakening of a 15-year-old born with genital ambiguity. Well played by Inés Efron, who was recently seen in Alexis Dos Santos' Glue (2006), the ostensibly female Alex has reached the age when gender is normally determined by corrective surgery. Eventually much to the chagrin of her supportive marine biologist father (an excellent Ricardo Darín), her mother (Valeria Bertuccelli) makes the initiative by inviting a cosmetic surgeon and his family to the isolated seaside village in Uruguay, where the trio have resided since moving from Buenos Aires. Upon their arrival, an increasingly irritable and emotionally volatile Alex, who feels as if she's about to be violated, ends up forming a bond of sorts with the surgeon's 16-year-old son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky), someone who's struggling with his own identity issues.
Largely related in hushed tones, this melancholic effort is neither sensationalistic nor sentimental. And that's partly because, despite the film's acknowledgement of the fact that the ordeal faced by its protagonist is quite unique, it remains attuned to the dilemmas of other characters, especially Alvaro's. Puenzo's discerning eye towards the unwittingly fragile emotional and psychological bonds shared by parents and children evidences a level of maturity not usually seen in initial efforts. (Puenzo, who's the daughter of Luis, director of the popular Academy Award-winning movie The Official Story , has written three novels and has a number of other credits to her name, including a screenplay for her father's latest, La puta y la ballena .) Working with DP Natasha Braier (In the City of Sylvia ), she makes good use of the natural light and the surrounding landscape, though her visual metaphors are too precious at times. Not as remarkable as the debut features from many of Puenzo's New Wave counterparts -- La ciénaga (2001) by Martel, Crane World (1999) by Pablo Trapero, La libertad (2001) by Lisandro Alonso, etc. -- but it's an assured and auspicious one nonetheless.
[C+ = Average / B- = Above Average / B = Good ]