Octopusalarm

There's a heartbreaking story of self-hatred and medical irresponsibility buried within "Octopusalarm," but helmer Elisabeth Scharang's insistence on being a part of the action dangerously teeters toward docu-parody. Euro cable is the most likely outlet.

There’s a heartbreaking story of self-hatred and medical irresponsibility buried within “Octopusalarm,” but helmer Elisabeth Scharang’s insistence on being a part of the action dangerously teeters toward docu-parody. If superfluous landscape shots were removed and Scharang’s attempts at playing psychiatrist excised, then intersexual (hermaphrodite) Alex Juergen’s painful coming to terms with her body and her past would make for sobering viewing. As it is, Euro cable is the most likely outlet.

When their child was born in 1976 with both genders, Juergen’s parents were advised to have the male genitalia amputated, a surgery that began a horrific series of operations leaving her scarred body looking like a sadistic surgeon’s playground. When Scharang met Alex, then called Alexandra, she was a deeply unhappy and bitter young woman who loathed her body and had little understanding of her sexuality.

While no doubt meaning to be supportive and encouraging, Scharang plays at being Alex’s analyst, proffering advice and treating her subject as something of a cross between patient and anthropological project. Fortunately, she had the foresight to give Alex a camera to record a video diary, which provides the most insightful moments of the docu. To her enormous credit, Alex Juergen, as she comes to call herself, is always honest, emotionally exposing herself in a way that can only be considered brave.

A sea-change begins when she goes to a meeting with other intersexuals, and discovers a supportive world she never knew existed. Long convinced her male side was the stronger element in her psychological makeup, Alex decides to take male hormones, and by pic’s end she’s had a breast reduction surgery that leaves her feeling ecstatic. The change between the person we first meet and the one we see at the end is dramatic, and makes for a happy coda.

Title comes from the made-up word Alex uses to describe the feeling she got when abused by her male classmates’ prying hands. Blow-ups are generally fine, though occasional indoor lighting problems result in dark images. Running time definitely requires trimming.

Octopusalarm

Documentary - Austria

Production: A Wega Film production. (International sales: Austrian Film Commission, Vienna.) Produced by Veit Heiduschka. Directed, written by Elisabeth Scharang.

Crew: Camera (color, DV, Super16mm-to-35mm), Josef Neuper, Christian Schneider; editor, Christine Ollinger; music, garish; sound (Dolby Digital), William Franck, Norbert Becwar; sound editors, Torsten Heinemann, Nikolaus Yvon. Reviewed at Turin Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (competing), April 25, 2006. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama; Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 110 MIN. (German, English dialogue)

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