Birds Eye View, the UK's first major women's film festival, returns to London for a fourth year on March 6th. Over the next couple of weeks, Dazed Digital will be speaking to four featured directors, continuing today with Lucia Puenzo, director of XXY, a drama about a 15-year-old hermaphrodite growing up on the coast of Uruguay, which is screening at the ICA on 12th March and comes out in UK cinemas on 9th May. (Or click here for our interview with Sonja Heiss, director of Hotel Very Welcome, or here for our interview with Jennifer Venditti, director of Billy the Kid, or here for our interview with Mariam Jobrani, director of The Fighting Cholitas.)
Dazed Digital: What drew you to this delicate subject matter?
Lucia Puenzo: XXY is based on a short story called "Cinismo" by the Argentine writer Sergio Bizzio. From the moment I read that story - the sexual awakening of a young girl who has what doctors call "genital ambiguity" - I couldn't get it out of my head. I began to write with that image in my head: the body of a young person with both sexes in one body.
I was especially interested in the dilemma of inevitable choice: not only having to choose between being a man or a woman, but also having between that binary decision and intersex as an identity and not as a place of mere passage.
I've always enjoyed literature and cinema that raises questions more than they give answers. Finishing a book or going out of the cinema with the head full of questions is good enough for me. If I have to give an answer I would say XXY speaks about freedom of choice, identity and desire. But the truth is I prefer to let everybody see whatever they want to see in the film.
DD: How did you find the two younger actors, Inés and Martin, who play teenagers Alex and Alvaro?
LP: It took eight months to find Inés. I started to look for younger boy and girls. Then I saw her in great film called Glue, where she plays a very small role, and called her to make a casting. With Inés something that was fundamental was finding a way for her to seduce and provoke in a masculine way, because at first everything she did was extremely feminine. So that was something I was especially focused on. Also, they are 24 years old, and they had to appear to be almost 10 years younger - that was something to be careful with. We had to work with Inés' voice everyday, with every line.
Inés came with me to many interviews with doctors and parents, then we began to rehearse, improvise, play, search for the bodies of the characters (because Inés is feminine and fragile and Martín has nothing of the clumsiness of Alvaro), and the way they spoke. When the shooting began I tried to have as much time as possible to work with the actors in the scene, with only the DP and cameraman looking, to give the actors as much freedom as possible - not to have them move inside the shot I imagined but to create the shot after seeing them move in the scene.
DD: What are you working on next?
LP: An adaptation of my first novel, The Fish Child, a love story between two girls who commit a crime and are forced to run away to Paraguay.