The Film: Valentin – Argentina
Movies with children as protagonists are often darling, saccharine, or make you want to set fire to the screen. But here is a charming movie where the characters feel tethered to reality and the scale of the story is not only appropriate but lovely.
Director Alejandro Agresti said he built the script around a wonderful day he had as child which was spent with his father’s girlfriend at the time. What makes this film so great is that he goes beyond a memory, builds a whole world for Valentin to live in, and fills it with so much history which is subtly and slowly revealed.
What makes a good movie, and doubly for movies with child protagonists, is that it wouldn’t work being told from the perspective of another character. Valentin nails it. The richness of the dialog and directing is equaled by the performance of Rodrigo Noya but again Agresti doesn’t forget the world he’s created and the secondary characters populate it with a sincerity that is rare to find in this genre.
Even in foreign films there is often an emotional crescendo but here, much closer to the way children and adults interact in reality, there were multiple scenes that equally carried the emotional weight of the film. Valentin, as protagonist and narrator, never crosses into cloying even in the most emotional scenes. The reactions of the adults to this little boy are some of the most wonderful I’ve seen on screen and the trick of the film is, though it bears his name, in a beautifully tender way Valentin is actually revealing the adult’s stories.
Another gem is the interview with Alejandro Agresti on the DVD. He says there are stories that are easier subjects to make movies about but this was “Something beautiful to tell, something good to tell.” He goes on to talk about casting Rodrigo Noya, the time period in the film, and why he makes films. He answers “When you have a sweet little conflict like Valentin, you really enjoy, you know? You really feel that you are working something so precious, so delicate, where all your forces as a director, as a writer, are to be accurate with reality — with the human condition. And it’s also challenging. From such a little situation to elaborate in the details without sensationalistic tricks and techniques. To go around 90 minutes telling your own story is much more challenging, you know? Your material is just hard feelings, human beings, you are not spending so much time constructing buildings, special effects, crowded scenes, 20 characters with very extravagant relationships with each other. No, it’s very nice to make, to detect and to work — I’m very excited to work over these little things of life.”
The very reasons why you should watch Valentin and why I continue my passion for foreign film.
The Food: Provoleta Popcorn
Provoleta is an Argentine variant of the Italian provolone and is served family style with bread after being grilled with some spices and oil. Cheese and popcorn? Yes please!
I happened to have some smoked cheese that would mimic the smoky flavor from grilling and I highly recommend it for the added flavor notes.
- 1/4 cup corn kernels
- 3 slices of smoked provolone (22 grams each)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon oragano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Place a small sauce pan next to the stove. Put a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Cook the cheese slices, one at at time, until the oil from the cheese runs off. Pour the oil off into the saucepan. Let it fry until you can flip it over with a spatula. Fry on the other side for around 2 minutes and remove the slice. Set it aside to cool and harden. After three slices of cheese I had around two teaspoons of oil from the provolone.
Pop the popcorn with your preferred method, remove the kernels, and place into a mixing bowl.
Put the crispy cheese slices into a food processor and pulse until the shavings are small enough to stick to the popcorn.
Add two teaspoons of olive oil to the sauce pan and place on low heat. Add the spices. When the oil moves freely in the pan and the spices have bloomed, add the crispy ground smoked cheese to the oil and then slowly pour over the popcorn. Toss to coat.