“A tough, engaging, extremely touching work of cinema.”
Richard James Harris /The Hollywood Reporter
”Films are powerful. “They have power over us and we have no power over them.” (hooks, 3) Films do not know national boundaries, they transcend cultures. As Frank Capra said, “Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.” Yearly, billions of dollars are spent in this extremely profitable industry and like so many others it remains highly unbalanced between women and men. As stated in The National Women’s History Museum, “Women have been central to the film industry since its inception in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From Nickelodeons to full-length feature films and from silent films to talkies, as writers, directors, actors, and audience members, women have influenced the trajectory of the film industry.” (Women in Early Film)
Lucia Puenzo is an Argentinian author and film director. She studied literature at the University of Buenos Aires, followed by the National Film Institute (INCAA). In 2007 Puenzo directed her first film XXY. (Wikipedia)
XXY is an Argentinian drama that has won several awards including three awards at the 2008 Argentine Film Critics Association Awards, and the 2008 Goya award for Best Spanish Language Film. (Wikipedia) Lucia Puenzo wrote and directed this powerful film that is based on “Cinismo,” a short story.
Lucia Puenzo, through her film narrates the story of Alex; a 15 year old intersex, who lives on the coast of Uruguay with her parents. She has long taken medication to suppress the appearance of masculine traits and we observe all the changes that Alex goes through as the medications leave her body.She becomes angry and highly sexed.
Her parents cycle through denial, anxiety and panic. “As the movie slowly unfolds we learn new insights into how each member of the family has a very different relationship to Alex’s gender and sexual identity, especially now that she is beginning to manifest and sexual preferences.” (Feminema, 1) Her mother has researched the prospect of sex reassignment surgery thus she invites a prominent surgeon to remove the “offending member” so her “daughter” can become a phenotypic female.
In the 91 minutes of her film, Lucia Puenzo concerns herself with issues that are part of our society, but at the same time difficult to digest, or even think about. Through her film she introduces not just the difficulties of coming of age, common for all adolescents, but especially so for an intersex child. By taking it a few steps further, she brought to light problems and concerns that are created when one faces nature’s reality. Issues like this can be taboo in society and, “Whether we like it or not, cinema assumes a pedagogical role in the lives of many people.” (hooks, 2) Through her pen and later on through her camera, she tells a story of a family whose fear of social stigma motivates them to move. The embarrassment that they will certainly face drives them out of Buenos Aires, to an isolated village, simply to avoid questions from friends and relatives. Social stigma, the difficulties of coming of age (especially when you are like Alex), confusion of gender, biological sex, and sexual orientation that arises in intersex cases, conflicts within the protagonists’ selves and with each other, even parental authority, all are themes that are touched by Puenzo and her story. “In the movie everyone refers to Alex as “she” although throughout the movie the author and filmmaker makes clear that this is strongly debatable.” (Feminema, 1) The mother wants Alex to be “a girl” so badly. Her daughter looks like a girl, but has male genitals and she believes that she can decide her fate. “Parental authority…” Where does it stop? Who is deciding? Are these the only choices? Boy or girl? In a society that if one is far from the “norm” you are stigmatized…. Being male or female is…“socially enforced.
Although the cast is amazing, and Ricardo Darin is exceptional, the success of this film, belongs to the auteur-director, Lucia Puenzo. Usually, in films, actors’ creativity is non-existent. Directors are “telling the story.” Through their eyes we see; and what we see is what they want us to see. Directors are in control; by deciding the light, the frames, angles, or even a gesture they leave their personal impression throughout the movie. Lucia Puenzo breathed life into this film. From the start, Lucia Puenzo infuses the film with her creative freedom, showcasing her stance/viewpoint. She created XXY. When asked, “Literature and cinema have been borrowing elements from each other for many years, but they are still different worlds in so many ways. Being a novelist, what advantages or disadvantages did you face when you had to adapt ‘Cinismo’ to the screen?” She replied, “Everything, everywhere, all of them! It was very hard…..you must run a team. That’s a big challenge and a key difference between literature and cinema: solitude vs.teamwork.”
From the single dimension of still paper she brought her inspirations into a multi-dimensional frame by making them visual, with images, sounds and actions. Her pen, when writing the story, was replaced by her camera when directing it. Through her eyes she brought to life what had been simply ink on paper. “The camera work and lighting result in a sulky, poignant and most memorable film.” (Keely and the Blog) By bringing herself into her work, she approaches the topic with great sensitivity and understanding and “She casts light onto such neglected areas of social life.” (Keely and the Blog) She deliberately has the father say that Alex is “perfect” to challenge the viewer. “I was playing with such a strong word on purpose, almost to question what is perfection because in this society everything seems to be divided in a binary.” (Interview with Lucia Puenzo)
“This is yet another piquant and rewarding film from Argentina, one that stands alone as a glorious movie, but one that also would be wise to add to the film libraries of high school and college students and of patient resource facilities who deal with problems of sexual identity.” (Award Winning Independent and Foreign Films)
Feminema: “XXY” (2007): gender/sex mashup by Didion.
Film Movement. Award Winning Independent and Foreign Films.
hooks, bell. Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. Taylor & Francis. 11-22-1996
Keely and the Blog. July 9 2010.
Realfic(c/t)ion. XXY: Interview with Lucia Puenzo. April 29, 2008.
The National Women’s History Museum. “Women in Early Film.”
Wikipedia “Lucia Puenzo”