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June 27, 2011

The Fish Child

fish child poster.jpg

El Nino Pez
Lucia Puenzo - 2009
Peccadillo Pictures Region 2 DVD

I think it would be difficult for Lucia Puenzo not to make a movie that would not live up to expectations following her debut of XXY. Even without the surrounding family drama, there was tension simply in the premise of the coming to terms of sexual identity for an intersex teenager. Puenzo let the viewer discover the truth about Alex as the film progressed, letting some of the more unexpected scenes speak for themselves.

Unlike the straight forward narrative in XXY, Puenzo opts to reveal her characters through flashbacks, with Lala reflecting on her relationship with the maid, Ailin, while traveling towards the destination that she believes holds her future. The two young women are about the same age, around 20 years old. That they are lovers provides some motivation for their actions, yet is not the focus of the film. Even though Lala says that she only had eyes for Ailin when first seen at age 13, what seems to really bring the two together is not so much erotic attraction as much as the alienation that they feel towards their own families, particularly their respective fathers.

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Puenzo's film is taken from her novel of the same title. I didn't know until recently that Puenzo is the daughter of filmmaker Luis Puenzo, director of the Oscar winning The Official Story. That Puenzo first established herself as a novelist might be interpreted as a way of expressing herself artistically in a way that is understood as being the act of one person, and in a different medium. And while I have seen both feature films by Lucia Puenzo and two by Luis Puenza (the other being the undervalued Old Gringo), what seems to link the two as filmmakers is an interest in questions of identity, whether it's personal, familial, or political.

For Lala, the notions of home and family would seem tenuous. The father, a judge, seems to have been forcefully retired for unstated political reasons. The mother's identity rests on her participating in international running events. The son lives at what is described as a farm, a somewhat remote place where he raises attack dogs on behalf of some of the elite of Buenos Aires. Lala's desire is to jettison her privileged background to runaway with Ailin, who has a house maid from Paraguay of is an outsider based on class and nationality. There is also the racial distinction to by made as Ailin is of Guarini decent, the indigenous people primarily from Paraguay. Ailin has also left her home and family, becoming a maid in part to support herself, but also as an act of rebellion against her own middle class background.

Part of the film plays on the cultural connections of Paraguay and Argentina by having Arnaldo Andre, a Paraguayan by birth, but a major star in Argentina, play a small role as a retired actor, Ailin's father. Also, a scene involving the conflicts between Lala's feelings towards Ailin, and Ailin's more fluid sexuality takes place during a concert of the Paraguayan band Los Potrankos. The title refers to Lake Ypoa in Paraguay, and a legendary being that grants miracles provided with offerings found attached to underwater trees. Certainly, Ines Efron, who played Lala, as well as the lead character in XXY is someone I should see in other films, notably Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman where she has a supporting role, and Daniel Burman's Empty Nest. In her two performances for Puenzo, Efron demonstrates a fearlessness that many of her Hollywood peers could learn from. Puenzo should also be cited for her own fearlessness, as this interview indicates, in making a film that in no way indicates the difficult conditions in which it was made.

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More GLBT Cinema is to be found at Garbo Laughs.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at June 27, 2011 07:47 AM


Your review makes this film sound very intriguing. Thanks so much for contributing this well-written review to the blogathon.

Just a note: I don't want to be the language police, but I would consider changing "teenage hermaphrodite" to "intersex teenager," as the word "hermaphrodite" has fallen out of favor with the people it is applied to and is now considered offensive terminology.

Posted by: Caroline at June 27, 2011 02:34 PM