Valentín (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

Agresti says, 'It's challenging, from such a little situation, to elaborate with details, without sensationalistic tricks and pyrotechnics.'"


Director: Alejandro Agresti
Cast: Rodrigo Noya, Carmen Maura, Alejandro Agresti, Julieta Cardinali, Jeanne Pierre Noher, Mex Urtizberea, Lorenzo Quinteros, Carlos Roffé
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Miramax
First date: 2002
US DVD Release Date: 2004-10-12
Sometimes it much more easy to make something more sophisticated, or to tell a story about drugs, prostitution or whatever, than to go to the simple, to the germ, the kernel of what everybody has inside.
-- Alejandro Agresti

Writer-director Alejandro Agresti describes his film Valentín as multiply layered, at once autobiographical, nostalgic, metaphorical, and fanciful. But, he says in an interview included on Miramax's otherwise extras-less new DVD of the film, he wanted to make a movie he calls "useful." Toward this end, he says that he cast young Rodrigo Noya because the boy "made everything without a lot of poses, and with very good timing."

The film begins with a child's self-presentation. "Hola. My name is Valentín, and I'm eight years old," he asserts. "I make rockets and I'm working on a space suit." Inspired by the U.S. and Soviet space programs, Valentín (Rodrigo Noya) has great ambitions. True, he admits, his eyesight is imperfect (he wears thick glasses and his eyes are crossed), but he brightly imagines that by the time he's old enough to train as an astronaut, the appropriate surgery will be available, and his career will be secured.

As he describes his situation with unaffected confidence, you see how he might be interested in space flight. Abandoned by his parents, he lives in Buenos Aires, in 1969, with his grandmother (Carmen Maura), who loves him but is also variously distracted. (Agresti recalls 1969 as "a last good year for Argentina," because afterwards, "Everything stood still, with censorship, with massacres, with killing, where the people were living in a kind of 1984 of Orwell. For us, 1969 is a year we can remember with some light and with some colors.") For one thing, her son and Valentín's father (Agresti) is supposed to maintain the household financially, most often, as the boy rightly guesses, he's too busy looking after his own life to remember to send money regularly (which leaves grandma no recourse but to pester him). At the same time, she misses her dead husband deeply, recalling their first meeting for little Valentín in a kind of lovely, longing routine, her nearly overwhelming sense of loss abated by the child's essential generosity. She asks for a hug and he gives it, unthinkingly, despite the fact that just hours before, she berated him for some minor error.

Valentín's gentleness is of a piece with his thoughtfulness. Unlike so many movie children, he takes an occasionally unnervingly rational approach to his confusing surroundings, wanting to understand adults' strange rules and behaviors, but also aware that sometimes, their world lies beyond his comprehension. Curious and independent-minded, he listens carefully as a local priest (Fabian Vena) encourages parishioners to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Che Guevara, recently murdered in Bolivia: some listeners leave during the sermon, as Valentín absorbs the lesson, all of it -- the sentiment, the offense taken, the earnestness.

While he is troubled by his father's absence (and forgetfulness when it comes to fixing the tv set), he also takes him at his word that Valentín's mother is at fault for her long-ago departure (as he has no other storyteller to ask). In lieu of visits from his dad, Valentín is willing to be thrilled when his Uncle Chiche (Jeanne Pierre Noher) comes by, equipped with the "latest" technology -- an audiocassette player he uses to deliver a message from his wife and their babbling infant. Even skeptical grandma is surprised and pleased to hear the baby's voice.

As Chiche's life seems so intact, Valentín is understandably intrigued and even heartened. He begins (once again) to imagine a family for himself, just as his father lets drop that he has another girlfriend. Eager to meet her, Valentín agrees to a "date," that is, a lunch and an afternoon with 22-year-old Leticia (Julieta Cardinali, perfectly late-'60s chic). Though he spills his drink (and worries, "She probably thinks I'm a little kid"), she's drawn to him. As their relationship evolves over the course of a few hours, the actors' rhythms are just right, delicate and attentive. Leticia asks shyly about his background, seeking information on his father, whereupon the child lets slip -- not knowing that it's not the way everyone thinks, of course -- that his father not only hates his mother (blaming her for leaving them, and for cheating on him), but also attributes her disloyalty to her being Jewish.

While the camera takes in both Valentín and Leticia at the moment of this revelation, her face is stunning, showing a range of emotions in an instant and a slightly teary glance offscreen, intimating her own sense of being taken aback, as well as in her efforts to maintain her composure at learning that her fiancé is so fiercely anti-Semitic and that he has instilled such ugliness in his beautiful -- and beautifully strange -- son.

When Leticia disappears following this meeting, Valentín again feels abandoned, then battered, when his father presumes the boy has betrayed him purposely. Valentín turns to a neighbor, the pianist Rufo (Mex Urtizberea), who spends his evenings feeling lonely, smoking cigarettes, and drinking, but offers to teach the child to play during the afternoons. "Rufo was happy, and I was little," observes Valentín. "He gave me the feeling that I was older and more useful." Already deep into this new friendship when he learns that Rufo is Jewish, Valentín begins to reconsider everything he thought he knew. Lying in his bedroom at night, he sighs, "Adults seem incapable of telling the truth."

And with that discovery, Valentín finds his "vocation." Though he still feels the allure of space travel, he also knows his limits, his own truths. And so, he begins to write, and it becomes clear how this charming, shrewd film has evolved from Agreti's autobiography. As the artist puts it in his DVD interview, "It's challenging, from such a little situation, to elaborate with details, without sensationalistic tricks and pyrotechnics, to go around 90 minutes telling a story. Your material is just heart, feelings, human beings."





Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.


Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.


JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.


All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.


Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.


Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.


Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.


'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.


Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.


Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.