Valentín is sweet, but his foray into community relations is a distraction to the main event
Alejandro Agresti, Argentina
2002, Castelao/DMVB/First Floor Features/Patagonik/RWA/Surf
86 min, Spanish with English subtitles
Reviewed by Georgina Jiménez
LATAMROB rating: *
WHILE WE should welcome the increasing number of Argentine and Uruguayan movies that address Jewish themes, it is incumbent on directors to ensure that these are relevant to plots that aspire to cast a spotlight on contemporary life in these countries.
Minority introspection for its own sake is a waste of time and cultural capital, unless it addresses issues that are fundamental to changing a misplaced understanding of a particular social group or righting a wrong. Otherwise, it is merely indulgence.
Valentín falls foul of this trap, and director Alejandro Agresti’s sub-plot contrasting Jewishness and anti-Semitism has no dramatic impact and is redundant in a story that, ostensibly, aims to give us a snapshot of life in 1960s Argentina.
Although Agresti – director of The Lake House with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves – attempts to present the period in a nostalgic vein, none of the resources he uses are effective in capturing the atmosphere and his characters lack depth.
Valentín tells the story of an 8-year-old boy (Rodrigo Noya) growing up in Argentina in this period. His mother left him from the age of 3 in the care of his elderly grandmother (Carmen Maura) – whose favourite pastime is foul-mouthing Jewish people – and an abusive father (Alejandro Agresti), who cannot form stable relationships. It later transpires that the boy’s mother is Jewish. The boy’s only friend is Rufo (Mex Urtizberea), a young man obsessed with piano music. However grim his everyday life, the dream of becoming an astronaut and the hope of one day seeing his mother again keep young Valentín going.
After a brief visit from his uncle, who lives in a far away village with a perfect family – and, strangely, a trip to a church where there is a priest paying homage to murdered Che Guevara – Valentín decides he wants a proper family.
It looks like Valentín’s father finally will settle down with the beautiful and kind Leticia (Julieta Cardinali). The boy and prospective mother have a good talk but, after he repeats certain things he has heard at home, she disappears from their lives. After the father’s cruel reaction and the death of the grandmother, Valentín decides to track the girl down and find out why she deserted them. On the way, he finds his true vocation in life.
Valentín can be cute and at times reminiscent of Cinema Paradiso, but does not work as such. The character of Valentín himself is meant to be witty, but is more suited to telenovelas featuring precocious children because of Rodrigo Noya’s hyper-childish delivery in contrast with his mature behaviour. To make matters worse, for the director to allow a script to kill the main character by hinting that the boy’s only saving grace will come if he assimilates himself to a previously ignored ethnic background is a real flaw, and works against what could have been an interesting story.
If you like mush this is a must, as it is sickly-sweet and easy going. If you expect a considered reflection on Argentina in the time of Guevara that is even remotely plausible, however, you will not find it there.