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XXY: It's Alex

Argentinean film examines the life of an intersex teen

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On the short-lived TV classic "Freaks & Geeks," Seth Rogen's character dated a girl who — he was surprised to learn — had been born a hermaphrodite but was surgically "corrected" in infancy. He had trouble dealing with a person who was born, as he put it, with "a pistol and a holster."

In the terrific Argentinean drama XXY, 15-year-old Alex (Inés Efron) "presents" as a girl among neighbors in a Uruguayan fishing village, but still packs a pistol and a holster. Questions over Alex's true nature arise when relatives come to visit, including a plastic surgeon (Germán Palacios) and his awkward son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky). Alvaro doesn't know Alex's secret, but he's immediately intrigued by the rangy, aggressive, androgynously named teen. Their sexual tension builds to a surprise of Crying Game proportions.

XXY succeeds as a prime example of naturalistic indie filmmaking, with handheld camera work, natural lighting and long, quiet scenes rich with emotion despite the lack of dialogue. Director Lucía Puenzo, however, qualifies as kind of princess of Argentinean cinema. She's the daughter of renowned filmmaker Luis Puenzo, whose 1985 drama, The Official Story, is one of the most devastating films I've ever seen. Ricardo Darín, probably Argentina's most esteemed actor, gives a soft-spoken but wrenching performance as Alex's father, a biologist who loves his child, resists surgical options but can't figure out how to do right by Alex. His efforts to save endangered sea turtles from local fishermen offer a metaphor for protecting his child – a different kind of rare species.

In her early 20s while filming XXY, Efron subtly and unpredictably employs feminine and masculine traits in her deeply felt performance as Alex. Neither as brutal as Boys Don't Cry nor as didactic as an old-fashioned after-school special, XXY addresses the challenges of being an intersex individual as a metaphor for adolescence. Alex's struggles with sexuality and gender prove exponentially more complicated than the average teen's, who carries either a pistol or a holster, but not both.

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