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Wednesday, Jul 30 2008

On the remote Uruguayan seaside, Alex's parents have sequestered their daughter away, hoping to keep her secret hidden from the world. That secret is a "difference," betrayed in Alex's sketchbook of Henry Darger–esque hermaphrodites: S/he is intersexed, gender unarticulated at birth. And now, as puberty encroaches, a reconstructive surgeon, with his teenage son in tow, penetrates the family's metaphor-clogged hideaway for a "friendly visit," with significant undertones. The looming decision of gender assignment presses on everyone's every waking moment, especially Alex's papa (Ricardo Darín), who is always disconsolately strolling into scenes (including one with an accidental sighting of his daughter reaming her new bend-over boyfriend). It takes a controlling hand to chisel something more contoured than monotony out of this dense angst, and director Lucía Puenzo doesn't have it, though Inés Efron, as Alex, gives a committed centerpiece performance with a nice, slightly lupine grin. But the monomaniacal concentration upon Alex' choice — with the teased-at possibility of a genital money-shot the film's structuring absence — leaves little room for anything more. And so a late character-developing father-son chat by the houseguests ("I was afraid you were a fag") is too abrupt to entirely skirt accidental comedy — as is Puenzo's choice to open a scene with a portentous close-up of a carrot being diced.

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Nick Pinkerton


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