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.

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