Young Valentina uses all her might to believe that her deceased father is still alive. This entertaining second feature by director-writer Ángeles Cruz is an intimate glimpse into the depths of loss and the healing power of love.
Valentina or the Serenity
A young child’s understanding of love and mortality is explored in this entertaining second feature by Mexican writer-director Ángeles Cruz. Valentina’s life is uprooted when her beloved father drowns in the nearby river. Refusing to believe the body she sees at the funeral is him, Valentina becomes convinced that her dad is still alive and will soon return home.
Raised in a close-knit Indigenous Mixtec community in Oaxaca, Valentina is a refreshingly precocious and adventurous child. Enamoured with and inspired by her favourite superhero, Kandi — who can bring forth thunder and lightning — Valentina spends her days wearing a cape and drawing her own comic books. She becomes even more steadfast in her belief that her father is still alive when she accidentally falls into the river in which he drowned and hears his voice, speaking to her in Mixtec, a language she never learned.
Her fierce conviction soon impacts her grieving family as they struggle with Valentina’s optimism. Her schoolwork also begins to suffer as she attempts to spend as much time as possible near the river awaiting another message, while enlisting her friend Pedro (a sweetly deadpan Alexander Gadiel Mendoza Sanchéz) to teach her how to speak Mixtec.
Cruz has created an endearing heroine in Valentina (played with grace and steely depth by Danae Ahuja Aparicio). Rather than dwell in sadness, this tenderly poignant tale of loss is uplifted and upheld by the joyous nature of love.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: mature themes