Published Jun 01, 2004There is a particular type of foreign film that seems to get North American distribution almost to the exclusion of anything else. These quaint stories of precocious children whose wonder-filled way of seeing the world has a lot to teach grown-ups everywhere have become a staple, if not the face, of the foreign films we're exposed to (Kolya, Central Station, Children of Heaven, etc.). Valentin is no exception.
Set against the backdrop of tumultuous 1960s Argentina, Valentin is the story of a nine-year-old-boy (Rodrigo Noya in the title role) who dreams of being an astronaut while trying to cope with his broken family, including a mother who mysteriously abandoned him, an absentee father with a bad temper and a loving but slightly crazy grandmother who takes care of him.
Director Alejandro Agresti wrote the script based on his own coming of age experiences, and, in a therapy-inducing twist, he also plays the role of his own abusive father. There's a somewhat disturbing undercurrent of both sexism and anti-Semitism running throughout the film, which, while perhaps meant to be indicative of the culture of the time, doesn't sit that comfortably with the film's wide-eyed innocence. There are hints of a broader social context that never really comes into focus, leaving a lot of loose ends in the story.
With all that said, it a fairly charming film, predictable but sweet without being saccharine. Rodrigo Noya pulls off the "wise beyond his years" thing without being annoying, alternating well between vulnerability and bravado, and Pedro Almodovar regular Carmen Maura is great as Valentin's temperamental grandmother. (Alliance Atlantis)