When Argentinean writer/director Alejandro Agresti was eight years old, he spent a sublime afternoon with one of his father’s girlfriends, a lovely woman named Laticia. The experience had such a profound impact on the young boy, in fact, that its memory followed him into adulthood, providing the seed of inspiration for a film loosely based on his own confusing, difficult childhood (as if there were any other kind).
Valentín relates the story of a gloriously nerdy eight-year-old (played by Rodrigo Noya, a younger Hispanic facsimile of the Dudley character from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums) who lives with his lonesome, crotchety grandmother, whiling away his days, dreaming of becoming an astronaut. Life on earth, however, couldn’t be more dispiriting for young Valentín, as his temperamental absentee father (played by Agresti himself, an odd psychological juxtaposition) lives in another town and his mother has fled an apparently abusive home situation for some unknown location.
Even though such trying circumstances might undo a lesser kid, this is no normal eight-year-old. This is a 45-year-old Argentinean filmmaker crammed into the shell of a chin-chucking youngster with fat plastic-rimmed eyeglasses. Agresti takes a character that has every right to be a young old soul and inadvertently turns him into a comic sketch a la Bill Watterson’s spiky-haired Calvin. A self-contained developmental anachronism.
The incongruence of his character would’ve proven far less distracting if the other characters hadn’t been written so believably, but the roles of the supporting cast are perfectly realized: the grandma who chatters to herself all day because she misses her dead husband; the father, whose combined love for his son and guilt over abandoning him leaves him in an almost bipolar state; and the beautiful Laticia (Julieta Cardinali) who fawns over Valentín during their perfect afternoon in the park but is eventually forced to confront the anti-Semitism of his father, whom she is dating.
The cartoonish rendering of earnest young Valentín will leave you chuckling at his savage wit and even wanting to hug his little neck, but the perpetual stream of rather blatant (and at times heavy-handed) profundities springing casually from his lips may just as easily leave you scratching your head.