Reviewed By Lybarger
Posted 10/14/08 03:47:35

"A sturdy exploration of a delicate theme."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

With 'XXY,' Argentinean writer-director Lucía Puenzo takes what could have been a movie-of-the week subject and instead delivers a thoughtful and deeply moving tale. Thanks to Puenzo’s slow, but sure-handed pacing and a terrific cast, the film unfolds into a believable, sensitive take on a potentially lurid topic.

The story concerns a biologist named Kraken (Ricardo Darín) and his wife Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) who live in a seaside Uruguayan village (gorgeously shot by Natasha Braier) with their rambunctious daughter Alex (Inés Efron).

The three would seem to be living a nearly ideal existence, but they’re not residing in this remote location purely by choice. Alex is only 15, but she takes more medicines than some senior citizens. Her parents are loathe to discuss her condition even though Suli has invited a doctor and his wife (Germán Palacios and Carolina Pelleritti) to visit them in the hope of finding some type of cure.

The doctor’s shy teenage son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky) is initially taken aback for Alex’s brashness but quickly becomes mesmerized by her. The two gradually become infatuated with each other and begin exploring their sexualities, but the two end up disturbing the others around them in unanticipated ways.

An alert viewer can probably figure out Alex’s condition without much effort (the film’s title is a big clue), but Puenzo, following Sergio Bizzio’s short story, uses her delayed reveal to explore not only Alex’s condition but Kraken and Suli’s attitude toward it. Alex has clearly inherited her father’s often defiant attitude, but Kraken is privately unsure of what to do.

Darín ably balances curt insolence with fear and remorse. Having played a slick and remorseless con man in “Nine Queens,” he demonstrates equal skill portraying ambivalence and affection. Kraken loves his daughter just the way she is but feels torn because the final decisions in her life are her own, not his. Eventually, he’ll have to stop trying to protect her.

Efron, who was fairly well out of her teens when she played the role, not only looks younger but projects a vulnerability that her swagger can’t always hide. Even when Alex behaves rudely, it’s hard not to sympathize with her desire to be accepted for what she is.

“XXY” earned award at the Cannes and Edinburgh film festivals, and it’s easy to see why. In less than 90-minutes, freshman director Puenzo examines teen sexuality with a maturity few veteran filmmakers ever achieve.

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