A few years ago, viewers of a particular disposition reported difficulty watching The Blair Witch Project, finding that the jittery, handheld cameras made them feel nausea instead of fright. Alejandro Agresti's Valentin has a smooth, clean look that couldn't be further from the Blair Witch style, but all but the most schmaltz-resistant audiences will likely find their gag reflexes challenged.
Set in early-'70s Argentina, Valentin stars Rodrigo Noya as the titular character, a sweet, heavily bespectacled, cross-eyed boy who sees his easily angered father only occasionally and his mother not at all. Instead, he lives alone with grandmother Carmen Maura, a muttering eccentric who doesn't look so healthy in the film's first reel, and seems unlikely to feel much better by its end. Noya doesn't let his situation squelch his dreams, however. He wants to be an astronaut, and he spends a chunk of the film talking about his goal, constructing homemade rocket ships, and wearing a hand-stitched astronaut uniform. If Valentin were a sitcom, the editor working the laugh track could simply lean on the "Ahhh...!" button.
When not simulating a moonwalk, Noya tries to harness more terrestrial forces. When Maura refuses to go to the doctor, he arranges to have one "accidentally" bump into her. When people in his life appear reluctant to fall in love, he does his best to help the process along. He meets setbacks with incredible resilience. Anyone who found Amelie unrelentingly grim should feel right at home here.
A few nice elements make Valentin all the more frustrating. Noya forms sweet relationships with Julieta Cardinali, one of his father's many girlfriends, and with Mex Uritzberea, a frustrated musician who lives across the street. But every time the film threatens to let a scene speak for itself, it brings in a cutesy voiceover and a honey-dripped score to drive the point home. It takes mere seconds for every charming moment to go from "Ahhh..." to "Aarrggh!"