dir. Agresti
Opens Fri June 18
Various Theaters

Valentin (Rodrigo Noya) is a movie character with whom we are well acquainted: a precocious, abnormally intelligent eight-year-old whose joyously naive plans and dreams make the adults in his life seem like dreary, embittered dullards. In the hands of writer/director Alejandro Agresti, this cliche premise is more palatable than usual, defying convention to the very end, where it finally lays down and admits defeat.

Valentin is filmed in gorgeous, dark, shimmering colors that look aged, as if the movie was made 30 years ago. The story, in fact, takes place in late-1960s Buenos Aires, a time and place troubled by Che Guevera backlash and anti-Semitism. Valentin's too-cute Buddy Holly glasses and unending river of simple-yet-profound witticisms are tempered by an underlying current of ugly Jewish prejudice infused in him by the outside world.

Agresti's cast of supporting characters also defies expectation. Valentin lives with his grandmother (Carmen Maura), a moody woman plagued by bouts of muddled senility. Within their dim, old person-esque apartment Valentin pines away for a mother he never knew, hoping fervently that one of his neglectful father's (played by Agresti himself) many girlfriends will pan out into a legitimate maternal figure.

Tossed into this mix is the obligatory neighbor figure Rufo (Mex Urtizberea). Every movie like this has a character like Rufo: the eccentric, usually lonely next-door artist who befriends the kid in question and gives him sanctuary from his crazy existence. Agresti handles Rufo with the cloying predictability of a Chris Columbus film. Of course Rufo is the Jew who will forever change Valentin's ingrained prejudices, and of course Valentin will make it his mission to improve Rufo's life, and succeed as only a driven eight-year-old movie kid can. In a movie that battles formula to the very end, Rufo's story is the final and decisive victory in the enemy's favor.