Monday Movie: Valentin, by David Bax
Based on description alone, Alejandro Agresti’s Valentín from 2002 sounds like worst kind of sentimental, middlebrow, faux-arthouse pap. A precocious eight-year-old boy plays matchmaker to the adults in his life? Could anything sound more trying? Yet something about the film has stuck with me all these years. In many ways, it’s the sense of time and place that allows Valentín to rise above. Being a partially autobiographical story, Agresti is able to inject authenticity to the setting of 1969 Argentina while also maintaining Valentín the character’s childlike wonder. The seamless blend approaches magical realism. Agresti’s assuredness is also reflected in the note-perfect performances of his cast, most notably young Rodrigo Noya as Valentín and screen great Carmen Maura as the selfless grandmother with whom he lives. Beyond that, though, there’s a heaviness just below the saccharine surface. Agresti remembers that kids are more aware of the world around them than we often realize and so he allows human and political darkness to creep into the corners of Valentín’s world. His distance from his parents is a result of anti-Semitism on the part of his father, who hates the Jewish woman he impregnated and likely hates the son she bore as well. And, as internal a kid as Valentín can sometimes be, practicing alone to become an astronaut when he grows up, the fact of political unrest in South America does not go unnoticed by him, with the still somewhat recent execution of Che Guevara dividing Valentín’s neighbors. All in all, Valentín is still a light and digestible comedy, a foreign film your parents will like. But it owns an honest and personal heartbeat.