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Argentina’s official submission for the Academy Awards two years ago, XXY is a an alternately dreamy and schematic film that can’t help but make you feel like a bit of a voyeur, a tactic that is at least occasionally intentional. It is set on a sparsely inhabited island near the border of Argentina and Uruguay. This is where Kraken, a marine biologist (Ricardo Darín, star of Son of the Bride and Nine Queens) and his wife have chosen to raise their daughter Alex (Inés Efron). Now 15 years old, Alex is being pressured to confront her true nature: she was born with the sexual characteristics of both male and female. Hormone treatments have tipped the balance to her female side, but her mother wants her to consider going all the way with surgery. To this end she invites a surgeon to visit, along with his wife and teenaged son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky).

It’s not unreasonable to expect a movie on this subject to have a pseudo-documentary approach as a way of dispersing information about people like Alex, both clinical and psychological. But that is not the intention of filmmaker Lucia Puenzo (daughter of Luis, director of the Oscar-winning The Official Story). We go through most of the film with a general idea of Alex’s condition but little hard information. Perhaps XXY is intended in a metaphorical way, as a way of approaching a young adult’s resistence to conformity—what Alex apparently wants is to do nothing and see what nature makes her her away from chemical shaping. (Those of an interpretative bent are given lots to work with: the sea creatures her father works with are sexually ambiguous, and his name, Kraken, is that of a giant mythological squid.) Efron resembles a young, more intense Sigourney Weaver and gives a riveting performance that is enough to hold your attention through this occasionally frustrating movie.

m. faust

XXY will be presented next Thursday (March 18) at 7pm at the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center (639 Main St,) as part of the International Women’s Film Festival.

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