lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 8 12:09:53 MDT 2004
When I received an announcement from a Miramax publicist that started as
follows, "In a world of adults who don’t quite seem to know what they’re
doing, eight year-old Valentin (Rodrigo Noya) sets out on a series of
extraordinary missions to make his life a little better, becoming an
unexpected matchmaker, macho confidante, philosopher, television
repairman and, most of all, a spirited purveyor of hope and wisdom to
those around him," I nearly read no further. Since my interest is in
films with an explicit social or political theme, this ostensibly modest
personal drama might not have been my cup of tea. I only decided to go
after realizing that it was an Argentine film. I am glad that I did.
"Valentin" is one of the most extraordinary films I have seen in the
past 12 months.
Set in Buenos Aires in 1967, it is imbued with the local color that is
as important to Argentine film-makers as Yoknapatawpha County was to
Faulkner or Paris was to Balzac. We see the streets and shops of that
period (faithfully recreated by director Alejandro Agresti) through the
eyes of an eight-year old boy. Valentin lives with his grandmother
(Carmen Maura, a Spanish actress and Almodovar favorite), who he adores
no matter the occasional quarrel over whether he needs a haircut or not,
etc. He is obsessed with space flight and spends every free moment
constructing model rocket ships or simulating moon walks with weights on
his shoes. When his uncle warns him that it is unlikely that Argentina
would ever send rockets into space, Valentin replies that they would
have said the same thing about Russia twenty years earlier!
Valentin's father (played by director Agresti who also wrote the
screenplay) is a philanderer who drops in from time to time with a new
girlfriend. After his wife left him, Valentin was put in the care of the
grandmother so he could concentrate on his career and skirt-chasing. His
latest flame is a perfectly lovely woman who takes Valentin out on an
afternoon "date" so they can become better acquainted. He is so
flustered by her charm and beauty that he spills two soda glasses in
succession during lunch. During a walk in the park, he confides in her
about his distant relationship to his father and how his father treated
his mother. After she breaks off with his father, he rages at Valentin
for "ratting" him out. It never occurs to his father that the
relationship was fragile to begin with.
As much as Valentin loves his grandmother (a relationship evocative of
the one between mother and son in "Goodbye, Lenin"), he is in search of
a surrogate father. That figure takes form in the neighborhood piano
teacher (played by well-known Argentine musician Mex Urtizberea) who
takes him under his wing and teaches him both virtue and vice (how to
play the piano and drink whiskey respectively). The center of gravity in
the film, however, is Rodrigo Noya's performance, one of the most
nuanced I have ever seen by a child actor. Valentin (and Noya, we would
assume) is cross-eyed and peers at elders through oversized glasses, and
is capable of searing observations about the frailties of adults. In
this jewel of a film, the director seems to be saying that children are
conduits of both innocence and experience. As William Blake put it:
'O my children! do they cry,
Do they hear their father sigh?
Now they look abroad to see,
Now return and weep for me.'
"Valentin" is a semiautobiographical film. Agresti, who was very much
shaped by Argentina's turbulent past, was born in 1962. Although he
chose not to make a political film, an important scene is highly
political. Valentin's uncle takes him to church one Sunday to hear a
sermon by a beloved priest. The priests speaks mournfully about an
Argentine doctor who could have enjoyed the good life but gave away
everything just to assist the poor. That man, he reveals in his
conclusion, was Che Guevara--just killed in Bolivia.
Look for "Valentin" when it shows up in your city. It is Argentine
film-making at its best.
The Marxism list: www.marxmail.org
More information about the Marxism