Sunday, 2 November 2008

XXY and El bano del papa

Double bill of South American cinema at the Rio, Dalston.

XXY is an Argentinian film I have wanted to see for some time. It's a serious look at the story of an intersex child whose parents have to make a decision whether s/he should have surgery to "normalize" him/her. S/he is now 15, the age when you become interested in sex. S/he has made the decision to stop taking feminising hormones. It's a crux point. There is a distressing scene in which several young men hurl the youngster to the ground and forcibly rip off his/her pants to "have a look". The humiliation is heart-breaking to watch. The parents visit an adult man who was brought up as a girl, who is now happily married with adopted children. They decide to accept their child for what s/he is: "perfect".
I had a friend who was a true hermaphrodite. He had a man's name, clothes, voice and body except for breasts and a feminine walk. Unlike all those porn sites you see with pre-op transsexuals claiming to be hermaphrodites, he had a tiny penis not much larger than a clitoris. He spent most Saturday's at Berketex in Oxford Circus trying on bridesmaid's dresses. 
Once he visited my house. Showing him around, he peeked into my daughter's bedroom, which at that time, was pure Barbie/princess pink, complete with Sleeping beauty style dressing table and muslin draped bed. His big Irish builder's face crumpled.
"I wanted a room like that" he choked "You would have thought that my parents could have given me a room like that!".
My daughter and I looked on open-mouthed. His parents were devout Catholics from a tiny Gaelic speaking village in Eire. It's not unreasonable that they would have struggled to deal with the situation. 
El bano del papa is a Uruguayan film about the visit of Pope Jean Paul II to a small town. The inhabitants are incredibly poor, not even having enough to eat. They are excited about the visit which they hope will provide an opportunity to make money from selling food and other services. The press 'big up' the Pope's visit suggesting that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims will turn up. The villagers get themselves into debt. This film is an indictment of the press, the corruption of Uruguayan officialdom and finally the sheer insensitivity of the Pope to true poverty. 
It is like a visit from the Queen; walls are repainted and new carpet is laid. One wag suggested that the Queen must think everywhere smells like new paint.


  1. I read a story of a Brazillian hermaphrodite, a true hermaphrodite with the full genitalia of both sexes. When registering the birth the parents had to basically toss a coin! They chose that their child should be male. S/he never had any gender assignment surgery, but as S/he grew up S/he felt like S/he was a SHE. No matter what their physical make-up, everybody has a sexual identity; everybody feels that they are a man or woman. This caused serious problems in adulthood when she fell in love with a man, a Brazillian Air Force officer. They wanted to get married but couldn't because technically they were a homosexual couple, even though they weren't! So she had to undergo a lengthy legal case to get her gender officially changed! Red tape, eh?

  2. ML, have you ever read Middlesex by Jeffrey Euginides? (sp? eek!). Anyway, it's one of my favourite books ever. I too saw XXY and it made me reread it all over again. Amazing stuff.

    The tale about your friend made me cry, but the Queen/new paint joke made me smile - guess that's how fickle I am today.

    Sorry you didn't make it to Bath! I'll attempt London in the very near future - will of course keep you posted!

    M x

  3. No my sister suggested that I read that book.

  4. have you read "Middlesex" by Geoffrey Eugenides(?) ? If you like the film subject matter I would say this is a "must read" assuming you are a reasonably avid reader...

  5. oops read comments first! :blush:

  6. i'm very impressed by your cinema taste.

    if you'd like another argentinian film that feels a bit like a david mamet script, my i recommend five queens?


I would love to hear what you think of this post! I try to reply to every comment (if there is a delay, I am probably away from an internet connection or abroad)