In the discourse on freedom of choice, one factor often gets a short shrift – the freedom of not choosing… the choice of no choice! Be it political affiliation, religious belief or sexual orientation, you must have neat, clearly etched out labels! But where do you factor in the beauty of uncertainty, ambiguity and most importantly, desire? So when Alex finally decides to stop taking hormonal medicines and her parents refuse to subject her to genital mutiliation, XXY subtly throws up these questions.
Alex is a 15-year old intersex person whose parents left Buenos Aires to settle in Uruguay, right after her birth to avoid social stigma. As Alex grows up, her masculine features start becoming prominent. So she has to take medicines to curb the growth of beard. But for how long can one hold out against nature? Her mother, Suli decides to take the final step- she invites her friend and her surgeon husband to operate on Alex and ‘normalise’ her. With them comes their gawky teenaged son, Alvaro. Before long a bond develops between Alex and Alvaro and inevitably they have sex with Alex as the penetrative partner. Alex is mortified that her ‘secret’ has been discovered and Alvaro is startled at the revelation- yes, he enjoyed being penetrated! But in a wicked irony, when his father finds out Alvaro likes Alex (he doesn’t know that Alvaro knows about Alex), he is relieved that his son is not a ‘fag’! Soon some boys in the neighbourhood find out about Alex and they tease her. Alex is devastated and her mother’s friend reminds her about the surgery. But are there only two ways to be human- man or woman?
In just 86 minutes, first-time director Lucia Puenzo delivers a multilayered text… a film that is emotional but not sentimental, that probes but does not preach. The lyrical camera that captures the coastline, the cloudy weather and the sea accentuates the latent desires, the brooding mood of the film. But most important are the performances of the leads. 24- year old Ines Efron internalises 15 year old Alex. From the masculine seduction sequences to the helplessness, she displays an amazing range and Martin Piroyansky’s portrayal of the unsure, diffident Alvaro is also spot on.
Ultimately, who is a freak? The one who celebrates her bodily desires unabashedly, frankly or the one who prescribes repression and forces you to be what you are not? In this age of vagina lightening creams and television babas who cure all your ‘ailments’, it is time we ask these questions.