A poetic and improbably painful study of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite reaching a significant juncture in her sexual development.
The increasingly churlish trials of teenage sexuality are currently the source of much amusement down Hollywood way, care of a new generation of cum 'n' beer slathered mayhem exemplified by Judd Apatow’s Superbad.
That makes Argentinean writer-director Lucía Puenzo’s debut film – a poetic and improbably painful study of a 15-year-old hermaphrodite reaching a significant juncture in her sexual development – all the more vital.
This beautifully realised and provocative coming-of-age drama zeroes in on Alex (Inés Efron), a rebellious transgender teen living with her affectionate but bemused parents in a secluded house on the Uruguayan coast. They are visited by a plastic surgeon who hopes to shepherd Alex through these testing times, but circumstances are further complicated by the presence of his dorky, sexually ambivalent young son Alvaro (Martín Piroyansky) who starts to fall for Alex’s brusque charms.
It’s a fascinating film for all the right reasons: Puenzo approaches the material without a hint of sensationalism, focusing on the sacred nature of identity and the mechanics of family decision-making rather than fawning over a succession of over-researched daily rituals and medical arcana. Efron’s performance, too, is unbearably tender.
There are a few touches of heavy-handed symbolism, which reduce the film to a matter of excess flesh – a close-up shot of Alex’s mother carefully dicing a carrot down to a fine nub and her marine biologist father slicing a fin from an injured turtle – but the otherwise plaintive direction works wonders in lending Alex’s sexual quandary a strange sense of universality.
The film climaxes with a moment of muted transcendence, which, though difficult to fully comprehend, will linger in the memory for days to follow.
Good word-of-mouth from its Cannes debut.
A tough subject tackled with aplomb. Great central performance.
Will burrow deep under your skin.