X, Y

Adapting a 1989 novel by up-market sci-fi writer Michael Blumlein, Russia-to-U.S. emigre Vladimir Vitkin's first feature "X, Y" is a twisted duet whose cool tone keeps it from tumbling into sleaziness. Kink factor ensures some cult shelf life in home formats, but pic's theatrical prospects are iffier.

With:
Terry Connor - Jamie Herrold Frankie De Leon - Melissa Murphy Marcus - Thomas Jefferson Byrd Edna De Leon - Barbara Spiegel Jerry Cox - Brian Anthony Wilson

Adapting a 1989 novel by up-market sci-fi writer Michael Blumlein (albeit one of his less highly regarded ones), Russia-to-U.S. emigre Vladimir Vitkin’s first feature “X, Y” is a twisted duet whose cool tone keeps it from tumbling into sleaziness. Still, this intriguing, ambiguous but ultimately unsatisfying effort will frustrate and repel many viewers with its odd tale of mysterious gender-swap body transfer and an increasingly sadomasochistic relationship. Kink factor ensures some cult shelf life in home formats, but pic’s theatrical prospects (it’s been touring fests since a 2004 Slamdance debut) are iffier.

Beauteous but dissolute exotic dancer Frankie (Melissa Murphy) is gyrating at the strip club one night when she and an unfamiliar, older male patron abruptly pass out, seemingly triggered by some phenomena which effects no one else. Taken home by slacker b.f. Terry (Jamie Herrold), she wakes up the next day not recognizing him, her surroundings, or her own body. Indeed, “Frankie” is convinced s/he is a man somehow transferred into a woman’s form.

At first, Terry thinks this is just an excuse for Frankie to dump him. His anger crests with a forced-sex interlude, after which Frankie spends some time at her baffled, staid suburban mother’s (Barbara Spiegel). In her absence, the lovesick Terry falls apart.

Eventually she returns to their apartment,with a new attitude that seems fueled by resignation and revenge. Wrapping Terry around her little finger — while keeping him at arm’s length — she demands he get a job, work double-shifts even, and give their abode a thorough make-over. His subservience gets just minimally rewarded; he sleeps on the couch, overworked to exhaustion. Even this isn’t enough, however, as Frankie begins a lengthy program of physically mutilating him. Their relationship further degenerates toward sick power games before road’s end.

Whether Frankie is faking, deluded or the actual victim of some supernatural personality-transfer is a question left open, though throwaway final note suggests — more irritatingly than revealingly — a possible answer.

Significant problem in suspending disbelief is that the attractive Murphy’s competent but conventional perf just doesn’t communicate gender ambiguity. Once Frankie begins “dressing up” as a woman, teasing Terry with her ever-more-glamorous allure, what should come off as creepy-provocative “drag” instead feels like ordinary femme fatale posturing. Admittedly, the character’s situation and behavioral about-faces would present a challenge for any thesp.

Whether by design or default, Herrold soon becomes the central attraction, limning Terry’s physical and psychological deterioration in vividly grotesque and pathetic terms. Support turns are effectively low-key.

Low budget is sometimes evident, but in general, the claustrophobic tenor is apt for the material. Tech aspects are well-handled.

X, Y

Production: A Vantage Films production. Produced by Helmut Gausterer. Co-producer, Sarah Beth Nelson. Directed, written by Vladimir Vitkin, based on the novel by Michael Blumlein.

Crew: Camera (color, mini-DV), Rick Lopez; editor, Jack Scope; music, David Shea; production designer, Kelly McGehee; art director, Corinne Merrell; set decorator, Abraham Kemmis; costume designer, Tere Duncan; special make-up effects, Vincent Guastini; sound editor, Stick Larson; assistant director, Laura Myers; casting, Andrea Shane. Reviewed at San Francisco Indie Film Festival, Feb. 13, 2005. Running time: 89 MIN.

With: Terry Connor - Jamie Herrold Frankie De Leon - Melissa Murphy Marcus - Thomas Jefferson Byrd Edna De Leon - Barbara Spiegel Jerry Cox - Brian Anthony Wilson

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