The three letters in the title refer to the chromosomes that determine what sex a person will be at the time of conception. If your chromosomes are XX, you will become a female. If they're XY, you'll be a male. If they're XXY, you'll be the main character in this film.
That character's name is Alex. From Alex's initial appearance, one may be confused about Alex's gender. It doesn't help that, in Alex's spare time, Alex reads the book The Origin of Gender. Alex has long hair like a girl. Alex has an effeminate voice, and, in the first of several shirtless scenes, Alex clearly has breasts.
Yet, in a very shocking sex scene, we learn that Alex is more than a woman, and not merely in the way the Bee Gees sang about in Saturday Night Fever (1977). It was more in the way that Boy George was singing about in The Crying Game (1992). The subtext is there but never spoken. The film opens with the arrival of a group of people at a secluded home, including a surgeon and his son, an awkward teenage boy named Alvaro who becomes attracted to Alex.
Alvaro is no question a boy, and in most sexual situations, he would be on the giving end. Except he's surprised to find himself, with Alex, on the receiving end. Alvaro asks if Alex is a boy or a girl. Alex replies, "I'm both!"
Of course, Alex is portrayed by young Argentinian actress Ines Efron, an actual girl. In several films that have dealt with sex and gender identity, like The Crying Game, an actual girl has been tapped to play the role. There have been exceptions like Soldier's Girl (2003), but a girl in this case makes it easier to portray certain things.
Yes, this movie is called XXY, but, to keep it from being rated XXX, there are certain things they cannot portray. Pun intended, Alex's penis becomes a bone of contention. Alvaro's father seems to be there to castrate Alex and remove those external genitalia between her legs. Such a fuss is made over seeing it that we wonder if the filmmakers will show it off. The filmmakers flirt with the idea of penile exhibition, whether it's Alex teasing to show it to Alvaro or whether it's the neighborhood boys wanting to forcibly gawk at the body of a hermaphrodite with its pants down.
Those aforementioned boys eventually do see it, but we, the audience, don't. Not that we need to! Seeing Alex and Alvaro in the act is quite enough. Yet, if you're going to do a movie like this, why not go all the way? Director Lucia Puenzo had no reservations showing breasts and the actual sex act. Why not give us that Boogie Nights (1997) ending and show us everything?
Puenzo started out as a novelist. This is her first feature film. It possesses a lot of lyrical beauty. The film opens with a dark, green underwater shot, which sets the tone for the entire movie. Puenzo doesn't stray from this rather depressing mood. There is a natural element that Puenzo tries to hold.
The point may be that being a hermaphrodite is something that nature has wrought, and perhaps having to choose between being a girl or boy is unnecessary. Perhaps being both is okay, as being gay is okay. The focus should just be acceptance of who you are, as you are.
There are moments when this idea is brought forth is touching scenes, moments, most especially between Alex's parents, and between Alvaro and his surgeon father. The problem is that this should be Alex's story, and it's not. Alex is almost incidental.
She/he hangs out more in the background than in the forefront of this story. Questions about whether Alex chose to have the surgery or not are never answered. Does Alex prefer men or women? Was there a preferred gender?
Beyond one scene, Efron isn't really given enough material in the script to give us a satisfying idea of how Alex is dealing with her situation and what she really feels about it. Plus, there's no real driving plot as in Transamerica (2005). This was Argentinia's official submission for the 80th Academy Awards, but this is no "Transargentina."
Three Stars out of Five
Unrated but intended for mature audiences
In Spanish with English Subtitles
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.