Valentín Movie Review

It's a time-honored trick that's been used by any director looking to get some cheap sympathy: Insert a cute, precocious child. It helped The Brady Bunch slog through its final, awful season, and it also helped a mediocre Polish film, Kolya, get a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1995. So Valentín should be unlikeable right from the start: It's the story of a cute, precocious eight-year-old boy who is (all together now) coming of age. Though Valentín isn't particularly transcendent, it's much less exploitative than most films in the cute-kid genre. And, occasionally, it even offers some lovely scenes that are downright poetic.

Set in Argentina in 1969, Valentín (Rodrigo Noya) is struggling to understand the circumstances that created his broken home. His mother has disappeared, and his father (Alejandro Agresti) has moved away to concentrate on work and a steady stream of failed relationships. That leaves Valentín with a world circumscribed by his ailing, overbearing grandmother (Carmen Maura) and Rufo (Mex Urtizberea), a pianist who watches after him and encourages his imagination. Valentín wants two things: A mother, and a chance to go to the moon. In his spare isolated moments, he builds model rockets and plans his moon shot; one of the loveliest scenes shows him plodding down the stairs in a home-made spacesuit while a record by what appears to be the Argentinean version of the Bonzo Dog Band plays in the background.

If this all seems too sickly-sweet for words...well, it can be. Eager to please and wearing big blocky eyeglasses, Noya can be downright cutesy. But director Agresti reminds us that we're dealing with important matters here - love, family, and bigotry -- and the film's best moments feature him in conversation with Leticia (the gorgeous Julieta Cardinali), his father's latest girlfriend. The interaction between Cardinali and Noya is as good as acting between adults and children get, and once we get a hint that Leticia might be out of the picture (she's Jewish, and Valentín's family is deeply anti-Semitic), Valentín earns a sadness that isn't melodramatic or forced.

Valentín has the elegance of a New Yorker short story. But it also has the same sort of studied airiness, a feeling that for all of its prettiness, there's nothing going on here that matters much. Young boy realizes that adults are strange and that life isn't secure: OK, got it. Got it in the first five minutes, actually. For a wisp of a movie with few surprises, though, Valentín manages to get past the flaws that collapse most films about children. Agresti's film feels much like a memoir that he needed to get out of his system. It'll be wonderful to see what he does with a story where there's something at stake.

The film's DVD includes an interview with Agresti.

Will you be my Valentine, Mr. Optometrist?

Cast & Crew

Producer :

Comments

Valentín Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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