New Directors, New Films Festival

NEW YORK -- "XXY," an Argentinean film by debuting director Lucia Puenzo, rises to the challenge of its difficult sexual subject matter. The story of a young hermaphrodite who's not sure if she's emotionally a boy or a girl manages to be both raw-edged and moving. The centerpiece of "XXY" is a feral performance by Ines Efron as the confused youth. But supporting characters are all thoroughly nuanced, and this injects a powerful humanism. The result is a tough, engaging, extremely touching work of cinema.

"XXY" has already performed well at festivals, picking up the Critics' Week Grand Prize at Cannes and a well-deserved New Directors Award at Edinburgh. Critical praise should boost chances in upscale art-house cinemas. Film Movement is handling the stateside release May 2.

Alex (Efron), 15, looks like a girl, but was born with both male and female genitalia. Her parents have brought her up as a girl, and her mother has mooted an operation to remove the offending muscle. Alex is starting to believe that she's actually a boy, and her father (Ricardo Darin) is coming around to that conclusion, too. When some family friends arrive at the house, 16-year-old Alvaro (Martin Piroyansky), a teenager with sexual anxieties of his own, forces the issue of Alex's sexual identity.

The creative decision to have Efron play Alex as wild and angry rather than anxious and introspective gives the film dynamism. Alex confronts her problems with her fists, and isn't afraid to externalize her emotions. She doesn't say very much, so her problems and internal conflicts are demonstrated in a very cinematic manner. Rarely has a teenager played a challenging role with such panache and credibility. Piroyansky also performs well as the nerdy, nervous, but emotionally honest foil to Alex's emotions.

Director Puenzo visualizes the fact that Alex is leaning towards male rather than female by showing her taking the masculine role in a sex scene with Alvaro. A nasty attempted rape scene illustrates Alex's vulnerability underneath her tough exterior. But the quiet compassion of friends and family ensures that the film is uplifting rather than depressing.

Film Movement
A Wanda Vision, Pyramide Prods., and Historias Cinematogrficas production
Sales: Pyramide International
Director: Lucia Puenzo
Writer: Lucia Puenzo
Based on a story by: Sergio Bizzio
Producers: Luis Puenzo, Jose Maria Morales
Executive producers: Fernando Sirianni and Miguel Morales
Director of photography: Natasha Braier
Production designer: Roberto Samuelle
Music: Daniel Tarrab
Editors: Alex Zito, Hugo Primero
Kraken: Ricardo Darin
Suli: Valeria Bertuccelli
Ramiro: German Palacios
Erika: Carolina Peleritti
Alvaro: Martin Piroyansky
Alex: Ines Efron
Running time -- 91 minutes
No MPAA rating