Directed by Alejandro Agresti. Starring Alejandro Agresti, Rodrigo Noya, Carmen Maura, Julieta Cardinali, Mex Urtizberea. (2004, PG-13, 86 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 16, 2004
Whether you ease into the languid and semi-treacly flow of this big-hearted Argentinean import or instead scoff at the child’s-eye platitudes contained within will have much to do with your tolerance of preposterously cute moppets in dire straits. The film’s tagline, frankly, says it all: "Cupid just turned eight," but I can’t think of the line without inadvertently calling to mind Jeremy Piven’s short-lived (but seriously lamented) sitcom that bore the aforementioned cherubim’s moniker. Call me a curmudgeon, but I like my quivering arrows to at least draw a little of the red stuff now and again. Nine-year-old Noya (who is, hands down, one of the cutest, most ingratiating li’l tykes since the preattitudinal Spanky McFarland) is cast here as the titular kid, hidden behind the thickest black-rimmed glasses since Mr. Magoo, which frame his permanently crossed eyes. That, surely, is all any child should be asked to bear upon his elfin shoulders, but in addition to poor Valentín’s infirmity, he lives in the combustible Buenos Aires of 1968 with his dramatically and emotionally overwrought grandmother, played with just the right pinch of vinegar by Maura (she bears a close – and strident – resemblance to the late Roger Corman regular Myrtle Vail, whom certain of you may recall as the aged whinester in both Little Shop of Horrors and Bucket of Blood). But I digress. Valentín’s mother is absent, and his father, the sort of archetypal selfish dreamer who really means the best but just can’t seem to manage it, only pops ’round from time to time to show off his most recent trophy girlfriend and present his son with the odd gift or bit or arcane but fatherly hooey that must have passed for parental smarts back in the day. Valentín, relentlessly cheerful for the most part, wanders about his cracked and faded neighborhood in search of something to do. Chief among his enthusiasms is playing matchmaker to the boozy composer next door, if at all possible with the svelte and genuinely delightful bombshell Leticia (Cardinali, who strikes one of the several resonantly lovely notes in the film). Of course, she’s also his father’s latest flame, although from past experience the wise-beyond-his-age Valentín knows the vagaries of interpersonal romance better than the clueless, befuddled adults who make up the rest of his world. The character of Valentiín is immediately recognizable to anyone who’s gone to more than 20 films in his life – charming, cuddly, hellbent on making his world tolerable – but to his credit both Noya and Agresti don’t overplay their hand. This skittish little lad is prone to bouts of depression – Buenos Aires ’68 is hardly Eloise’s Plaza, and the film is filled with a far more tentative stripe of hopefulness than you might expect. (The recent slaying of popular hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara is ruefully mentioned by the local priest, and half the time the film and its characters seem disastrously unable to externalize their inner torment.) But then, that’s what Valentín, God love the little imp, is on hand for. Pint-sized proof that even in the very worst of times some cute-as-a-bug’s-butt scamp is going to help get you laid when you need it most of all. Tough break about Che, though.