Friday, January 25, 2013

XXY (Historias Cinematograficas Cinemania, Wanda Visión S.A., Pyramide Films, 2007)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2013 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last Tuesday, January 23, the SAME Alliance in San Diego showed a quite compelling gender-bending movie from Argentina called XXY — in what would call a “Crazy Credit” the film’s title is made to look like three X’s in which the bottom right bar of the last X has been broken off to make it resemble a Y — a quite clever metaphor for the film’s leading character, Alex (Inés Efron), the teenage child of marine biologist Kraken (Ricardo Darín) and his wife Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli). It’s the summer and she’s with her parents on a field project researching what’s happening to some seagoing turtles — the film supposedly takes place in Uruguay but someone who doesn’t live there would probably have a hard time telling it apart from Argentina — and during her time there she’s beaten up her former best friend Vando (Luciano Martín Nóbile) and is in the middle of a weird relationship with a young, rather effeminate man named Alvaro (Martín Pirovansky). It’s been billed as a Transgender movie but it goes pretty far beyond the norms of Transgender cinema (including the one another local political group, Canvass for a Cause, showed last weekend called In the Wrong Body, a pretty straightforward documentary about a male-to-female transformation whose only novelty was that it was made and set in Cuba — and the Transgender person we see undergoing the transition, Mavi Susel, had the operation in 1988 and, though she received personal congratulations from Fidel Castro’s office, the operation was subsequently banned in Cuba and not performed there again until 2007) because Alex is not a female-to-male Transgender (which itself would be an odd enough subject for a film!) but the type of person once called a hermaphrodite and now commonly (or at least politically correctly) referred to as Intersex — having fully functional male and female genitalia.

Writer-director Lucía Puenzo, working from a short story called “Cinismo” by Sergio Bizzio, managed to create a rare and beautiful film full of the kinds of symbolism and irony that seem to come naturally to Argentine writers. The film opens with Kraken dissecting a marine animal that’s been fished out of the ocean (he’s mostly studying turtles but the creature on his dissecting table looks like a ray), and the rest of the movie is full of images of slicing and dicing, reflecting the dilemma Alex is in as to whether she should choose to be operated on to lose her female genitals or her male ones — and the images of living or once-living things being cut up persists throughout the movie, including one chilling scene in which we see Alex’s mother chopping a carrot shortly after we’ve seen Alex with one of her dolls to which she’s attached a carrot to give the female doll male sex characteristics. There’s also a weird scene in which Alvaro and Alex have sex until Alex’s dad catches them — only Alvaro is on the bottom and Alex is fucking him. At first we think — or at least I thought — she was merely rubbing herself against his butt and reaching orgasm that way, but later we’re told that she actually has a penis and was penetrating him more or less for real. Later on Alvaro’s dad says, “Well, at least he’s not a fag” — and though the synopsis says that Alvaro’s experience with Alex is what shows him he is Gay, I don’t read the film quite as definitively as that: I thought the takeaway from Alvaro was that his experience with Alex had opened him up to possibilities beyond straight or Queer, challenging the gender binary rather than reinforcing it.

Another nice touch is that in an early scene we see Alex reading a book that challenges gender binaries throughout the animal kingdom — before we realize that the author is in fact her father: that having literally “written the book” on gender ambiguity, he’s in a much better place to accept Alex the way s/he is rather than impose a gender category. The film is full of felicities like that, including Vando’s father turning out to be the turtle poacher Kraken is looking for and Vando himself coming to Alex’s aid when four other boys attempt to gang-rape her and demand to see her naked crotch so they can find out if she really has both sets of parts (remembering Boys Don’t Cry, I dreaded the outcome of this scene; in a U.S. film on this topic, the most likely fate for the gender outlaw is s/he would be killed and the film’s tragedy would be his/her martyrdom). XXY is a quite remarkable movie, an interesting addition to the world of gender-bending cinema, and yet more evidence that in other parts of the world people can make movies that accept homosexuality, transgender status or Intersex status as just facts of life instead of feeling compelled either to condemn them or condemn the Queer people to endless levels of angst about their fates and tragic outcomes. (It still rankles me that Brokeback Mountain got considered the greatest Queer film of all time by so many otherwise intelligent people when it was really just the same-old same-old: two men fall in love, one ends up Queer-bashed to death, and the other ends up an emotional basket case.)