I'm not going to let it disappoint me that SIFF's Opening Night selection, the Argentinian flick Valentín, isn't a masterpiece. It's eager to please and it means well – really it does – and I'm sure lots of people will buy into the feel-good Mirimaxiness of it all.
But I didn't.
Alejandro Agresti's semi-autobiographical tale is about a 1960s childhood – specifically that of nine-year-old Valentín (Rodrigo Noya), a bespectacled, annoying lil' meddler who lives with his elderly, bellyaching grandma (Almodóvar regular Carmen Maura) while his borderline-abusive father (Agresti himself) makes his way through a series of failed galpals.
One particular galpal, Leticia (lovely Julieta Cardinali), manages to win Valentín's affections. And it's not difficult to see why – she's the most interesting thing about the movie. Cardinali (a famous TV star in Argentina) is a revelation – stunning, delicate, and completely fascinating as the troubled and sensitive Leticia. Shots of her alone in the frame seem to have been mistakenly inserted from another, better movie.
Unfortunately she's not around much. There's still lots of undiluted, Cousin Oliverish Valentín adventures to tolerate – a budding friendship with an eccentric neighbor, a harsh confrontation with Dad, and a family tragedy you see coming from a mile away.
Then, toward the end, there's another amazing performance that bumps the film up one more notch. A mysterious older man (Lorenzo Quinteros) relays a message to Valentín about his long-lost mother – and his brief, sorrowful cameo is one of the best pieces of acting I've seen in a while.
And soon Leticia returns for a sweet finale that almost succeeds in warming the heart.
My advice? See this sometime. Just don't blow forty clams on an Opening Night ticket.