[Marxism] Valentin

Louis Proyect 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.

-- 

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