Saturday, June 14, 2008

SIFF 2008, Blog #7

dir. Lucia Puenzo
Contemporary World Cinema

At one time, I used to see every film about alternative sexuality that I could find. Wait, let me rephrase that, any film on sexuality. Coming out stories, movies about gay men, lesbian films, any film that received a NC-17, even a movie with a penis puppet quoting the Marquis de Sade. And most of them sucked, but there was always the occasional gem that would become my very favorite film ever. It was 1997 that I developed my fixation with The Pillow Book, that I've never gotten over. Although it was about that time that I stopped seeing every movie I could with a queer theme. I just noticed that I've slipped into old habits with this year's SIFF as there has been a lot of GLBT content this year.

In XXY, a surgeon and his family come to stay in a small village in Uruguay to meet Alex. Alex is a hermaphodite who has been taking medications to feminize her appearance, allowing her to completely pass as a normal teenage girl. What Alex's parents do not realize until after the arrival of these house guests, is that she has stopped taking her medication and has absolutely no interest in meeting a man who wants to correct her anatomical anomaly. When this is presented to her parents, they both individually say that surgery is her decision, it is clear that each parent has somewhat different concerns about Alex. Her mother worries about her not fitting in, not being accepted. Her father wants her to be happy.

When we meet Alex, she is being introduced to the doctor and his family when she admits to being expelled from school for breaking her best friend's nose. One has to assume that the fight that led to her hitting her friend was probably a direct result of the same issue that this surgeon is focused on correcting for her, but she isn't interested in talking to him. No she is much more interested in his teenaged son, Alvaro, whom she aggressively pursues.

Unlike many films about young people's sexuality, XXY focuses on the less talked about issues of teen sexuality. I remember 15 very clearly. I was unpopular. Underwent puberty years before any of my peers. I couldn't relate to my girlfriends and their perpetually changing, all encompassing crushes. And I believed I was a freak. I never had a boy crazy moment. I tended to have erotic dreams about girls I knew. Thus I was certain that there was something wrong with me. My 15 year-old solution was to have lots of sex. I'm sure there was some logic to that idea, that being sexual with boys would make me less strange, somehow. But that is what I saw happening with Alex when upon her propositioning Alvero. It made complete emotional sense that she would turn to a strange boy to make sense of her budding sexual feelings, trying to figure out for herself what they meant in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity.

XXY is very honest about the challenges of growing up. Alex has problems that I thankfully ever had to face, but in the complexities of dealing with being a hermaphodite, a true freak, the story still remains very universal. While Alex faces unique challenges, each of us needed to come to grips with the situation we are born into and while much of Alex's issues deal with her sexuality and the decision to grow up into a man or a woman, she also has to face he relationships with her parents and her peers. XXY presents portraits of two teens with very different relationships with their fathers. Alex's father is very supportive of her decisions and doesn't pressure her to conform to anything. He worries about her and has to deal with his own reaction to her developing sexuality, something that is difficult for any parent, but this film watches him grow and their relationship strengthen. The glimpses given of Alvero with his father are a dramatic contrast to the Kraken family. In one pivotal scene, Alvero expresses that he likes Alex to his father and isn't ready to leave. His father expresses coarse surprise and pride that his son isn't homosexual. It is apparent that Alvero's family has a very rigid notion of what Alvero is to become and anything outside of that is unacceptable.

XXY is probably the best film I have seen at SIFF 2008. The acting was amazing especially Ines Efron in the role of Alex and the story was profoundly moving. This is a powerful story about adolescence and the relationships between parent and child. XXY is playing numerous film festivals at this time, but has opened in Europe and the UK, so it is likely it could get an limited US release.

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