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Valentin
cast: Rodrigo Noya, Carmen Maura, Julieta Cardinali, Mex Urtizberea, and Jean Pierre Noher

director: Alejandro Agresti

104 minutes (PG) 2002
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Thomas Cropper
Had this film been made in America, it would have starred today's version of Macaulay Culkin and would have been sickening. Thankfully, though, we're in the hands of Argentinean director Alejandro Agresti and what we get is a beautifully written, directed and acted masterpiece that'll make even the most cynical feel all warm and cuddly.
   Agresti has made this his declared intent. He wanted to make something beautiful, something based on his childhood memories of the days when his father's girlfriend would take him to the cinema and around parks. As such, it is positively soggy in nostalgia, but still manages to pull it off without ever becoming corny or self-indulgent.
   The film is brilliantly led by Rodrigo Noya as Valentin, a young boy who escapes into his own personal fantasies of becoming an astronaut. His world consists of his Grandma Abuela (Carmen Maura) who he lives with; the pianist from next door, Rufo (Mex Urtizberea); and his best friend Roberto (Stefano Di Gregorio).
   His only real gripe about the world is the girlfriends that his father brings back. "Did she come on her own in a Hercules?" he yells incredulously as one comes wobbling up to meet him. But all that changes when he meets his latest prospective mother, Leticia (Julieta Cardinali). The relationship between these two is key as they fill an emotional hole for one another. It's a simple love story between surrogate mother and surrogate son and, along with Rufo, they develop their own close-knit, dysfunctional family.
   Those who liked Amélie or Cinema Paradiso will love this little film. It genuinely is a thing of beauty in the way it's shot, the music, the tone, the acting, everything about it is infused with a nostalgic sense that no matter how bad things may seem, it'll be alright in the end.
   And things are bad. Valentin's father is a tyrant who seems to turn up only to spew abuse at him and refuses let him see his mother; his grandmother is ill; it is a far from idyllic childhood, but the quirky energy with which he faces all these troubles makes for a stunning performance. Though barely out of nappies, Noya shoulders a massive burden appearing in virtually every frame. It is he that sets the tone of the film and gives it is unique character. What could have been a soppy family flick turns into something that will truly last and last. As Agresti says in an interview, provided as an extra feature on this DVD, it would have been perhaps easier to make a more sophisticated movie about drugs, but to make a simple, beautiful film like this - and still get taken seriously - is a much tougher assignment.
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