Anyone who's seen "Harry Potter" but is still desperate for a movie about a chatty, motherless, bespectacled whiz made by a Latino director should look no further than Alejandro Agresti's "Valentin." Though I can't say I recommend more than 15 minutes of it at a time. Narrated from start to close by an 8-year-old, it often seems like a coloring book on tape.
Agresti uses the film to dote on Rodrigo Noya, who plays Valentin, the movie's pint-size fount of wisdom. Noya has apple cheeks and beady eyes, and his character attends a school in Buenos Aires that requires him to wear lab coats which make him resemble a chipmunk scientist. He has the bogus sophistication of someone who's fallen out of a flashback in a Wes Anderson movie.
Valentin lives with a tough-loving grandmother (Carmen Maura) who can be counted on to call his mother all kinds of "whore" for leaving her son. And sometimes his playboy father, played by the director, will drop by with news of a new girlfriend (and replacement mother) for Valentin to go gaga over. The boy has a thing for older women and shows up for a date with Leticia (Julieta Cardinali), his father's latest candidate, dressed in a blazer.
Early, he informs us that "My teacher is really cute so I can't complain." The idea, of course, that he's a bigger grownup than the adults in his life. And to illustrate this, he's surrounded by goofballs, including Rufo (Mex Urtizberea), his lovelorn 30-something neighbor, who's still recovering from being dumped. Rufo has no problem cursing Valentin out and then giving him piano lessons. The adults in this movie are funny that way. But don't fret, Valentin gives as good as he gets.
There's a nice sequence of him lumbering through his flat in a homemade spacesuit. It's a rare, special scene in a movie that is always busy. When Valentin's not telling us his inner and outermost thoughts, he's fixing the TV, urinating on trees, or learning that Jews are people, too. He also tries to hook his ailing grandmother up with a physician (Carlos Roffe).
If anything Valentin did seemed natural, not the product of Agresti's self-amused notions of what kids think about the world, "Valentin" might have had a note of charm. Instead, the boy utters pointless epiphanies ("Life's a crapshoot!"). The movie plays simply on the surface, and unlike the makers of the similarly intentioned and equally insufferable "Amelie," Agresti lacks a flair for visual distraction. All the better to see that his prodigious child is not a boy, he's a notion.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and directed by: Alejandro Agresti
Starring: RodrigoNoya, Carmen Maura, Julieta Cardinali, Agresti, Mex Urtizberea, Carlos Roffe
At: Harvard Square
Running time: 86 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (thematic elements and language)
In Spanish,with subtitles