- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

“Who wouldn’t love you?” asks a dream girl named Leticia, played by a formidably lovely young actress with a swell name, Julieta Cardinali, in the Argentine import “Valentin.” It’s difficult to suppress the thought, “Who wouldn’t love you more?”

But the problem with “Valentin” is that there may be too much special-pleading lovability permeating the scenario of writer-director Alejandro Agresti and awaiting the fond embrace of softhearted spectators who don’t need to be oversold, anyway. Leticia is addressing the title character, a precocious and often adorable 9-year-old, embodied by Rodrigo Noya. We encounter Valentin in Buenos Aires, circa 1969. His parents were bitterly divorced at some point in the past.

The boy’s father, boldly impersonated by Mr. Agresti, who also acknowledges Valentin as a portrait of himself as a whippersnapper, shows up every so often — and reveals appalling streaks of caddishness. The missing mother never does surface, although a surrogate is meant to brighten one scene, with a message of incognito devotion that may be less useful as a character-builder than dad’s spite and malice.

Father is a smug skirt-chaser and Leticia a would-be conquest. During a stroll with Valentin she begins to get second thoughts about her new suitor: The boy entrusts her with innocent confidences that place his father in a justifiably suspicious light. To the boy’s shock and confusion, this interlude takes Leticia out of his life and brings out the fuming wretch in his dad, who assumes the boy has said something out of turn but can’t deduce what it was.

Valentin lives with a crotchety, ailing paternal grandmother, impressively played by Carmen Maura, the leading lady in such early Pedro Almodovar hits as “The Law of Desire” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Between Valentin, Leticia and grandma, there is a varied and reliable stockpile of lovability in Mr. Agresti’s cast. He doesn’t need to overplay a hand that is already flush with good cards while discarding the conspicuous bad one.

I’m not sure how the filmmaker weathered parental estrangement or abandonment, but Valentin is granted the kind of license that rarely exists outside the movies: He seeks out Leticia and seems to be working on an optimum match with his favorite neighborhood bachelor, Mex Urtizbeara as a jazz musician called Rufo, who doubles as the boy’s piano teacher.

Mr. Agresti has a comic flair that can protect some of his wishful thinking. For example, when Valentin arranges a coincidental meeting with Leticia and Rufo at a local cafe, it is funny when he pretends to be surprised by the latter’s presence and asks, “May we join you, maestro?” That line may prove useful well beyond the immediate shelf life of “Valentin.”

**1/2

TITLE: “Valentin”

RATING: PG-13 (Occasional profanity and vulgarity; elements of family conflict)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Alejandro Agresti. In Spanish with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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