Do you like cross-eyed eight-year-olds who are too adorable for their own good? Do you like them smart and sad and brave? Do you like little snapshots of life, where nothing of great import really happens but you get to feel all warm and gooey inside? Well, Argentinian director Alejandro Agresti has a movie for you.
Valentin, set in 1960s Buenos Aires, tells the tale (based on Agresti’s childhood) of a small boy desperate to form a family for himself out of his less-than-ideal situation, including an absentee mother (absent for good reason, we find out later) and a cad of a father (Agresti) who uses poor Valentin to charm the ladies.
It’s not all downhill for the precocious astronaut-wannabe Valentin. His grandmother (powerfully conjured by Carmen Maura) provides him a safe haven from his schmuck of a father. He’s also made friends with his drunk of a neighbor Rufo (Mex Urtizberea) and a stunningly beautiful young lass named Leticia. Leticia is Valentin’s father’s latest catch, and Valentin has a sweet and sentimental “date” with her, bringing about the only dramatic tension in the film. Valentin talks a bit too much to Leticia, effectively thwarting any further seduction of her by his dickhead dad. That’s pretty much it.
In between, we get a lot of cute talk, warm imagery, a poignant monologue from Granny, and too many close-ups of the kid and his oversized eyeglasses.
There is some genuine heart and soul to Valentin. There are times when you feel his loneliness and heartbreak, especially when he’s shown counting the seconds till his mother’s hoped-for return. The problem is that there is only so much adorable crap a moviegoer can stomach, and Valentin wears out its über-sweetness about halfway through, leaving you empty and sugar-buzzed and impatient for something to actually happen that isn’t so maudlin or forced. That’s no way to spend half of a movie.
The movie’s predictable and tired wide-eyed innocence is countered for a few moments by Leticia’s entrance, and staring at this leggy blonde is not all that bad a diversion.
There is a really odd moment in the film that is also a bit of distraction from the terminally cute Valentin. That’s when a parish priest goes on about Che Guevara in one of his sermons. I guess that’s supposed to make all this seem relevant or something. But it’s just another moment in a movie about moments that begs for a little more grit and a lot less adorableness.
In Spanish with English subtitles. Opening at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, west of Telegraph). Call 248-263-2111.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].