When lonely, embittered and eccentric hardware shopkeeper Robert (Ricardo Darin) goes to the aid of Jun (Ignacio Huang) a Chinaman who is being thrown out of a Buenos Aires taxi, he is drawn into Jun's search for his uncle via a tattooed address on Jun's arm - Jun speaks no Spanish. Roberto takes Jun to the police station, where the cop wants to jail him so Roberto takes Jun in as his house guest for the night. Next day he takes Jun to the Chinese embassy, where he learns Jun is an orphan looking for his uncle - and so to the Chinese neighborhood to seek out his uncle - without success. After a series of incidents, a Chinese take-away delivery boy translates for Jun, and Roberto discovers the dramatic event that brought Jun to Argentina. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If it weren't based on a true story it would still be a great yarn, but real life often manages to outperform our imaginations when it comes to the human condition. That's one reason why our anti-hero Roberto (Ricardo Darin) collects clippings of bizarre stories from around the world. Since his parents passed away, he doesn't have much else to do other than look after the modest hardware shop his father left him. He collects other things, too, and he likes to watch airplanes over a picnic lunch by his car at the airport.
Which is where his life changes one day, though he doesn't yet know it. A screaming young man is bundled out of a Buenos Aires taxi nearby, and although the man speaks no Spanish, he does have an address tattooed on his arm, so Ricardo does the only thing he can and takes him there. This is the beginning of a fruitless search for an uncle who has been off the radar for a few years.
It's a frothy and funny start to this award winning film from accomplished Argentinean filmmaker Sebastian Borensztein, which changes gear from a strange buddy movie first to black comedy and in the final act a moving, surprising drama with a final scene that completes the journey that Ricardo began so inadvertently at the start.
The key plot points are best discovered in the film itself, but you can imagine the potential for a certain kind of humour when two strangers are forced into close proximity, both reluctantly yet they are bound by fate to stay connected.
Ricardo Darin, best known in Australia for his star turns in Nine Queens (2000) and The Secret In Their Eyes (2009), is marvellous as the embittered, reclusive and emotionally shut-down Roberto, whose natural decency can't be held back under the circumstances - though he tries. Ignacio Huang makes Jun a real character even though like Roberto, we don't understand what he is saying until near the end when a Chinese take-away delivery guy is roped in as translator - and the enormity of the opening scene is brought home with a jaw dropping revelation.
Roberto's own backstory, set in the British-Argentian war of 1982, is moving, too, and it explains why he collects the clippings. By this stage of the film we have been deeply engaged, after being disarmed by the humour of the circumstances, including the colourful visits to a police station and the Chinese Embassy. Added to it all is the subplot about Mari (Muriel Santa Ana) who has her heart set on an unresponsive Roberto ... Oh, I didn't tell you about the cows.
Review by Louise Keller:
The absurdity of life is beautifully captured in this wondrously simple, yet complex film from Argentina in which fate and the incongruous collide. Nothing is what it seems, yet everything is exactly what it seems. The conundrum begins with the film's title and continues right through to the characters and the narrative until things fall into place and the jigsaw created forms a coherent picture. Without meaning to sound mysterious, this film by writer and director Sebastián Borensztein is a film whose special delights are best discovered. It's a buddy movie, a mystery, a character study and a love story all rolled into one and the result is amusing, surprising and genuinely moving.
There are no subtitles for the first scene that is set in China, but its context is self-explanatory, as the impossible happens: a cow falls from the sky. If that is not enough to make you curious, the next scene in Buenos Aires, in which a hardware store owner called Roberto (Ricardo Darin) is counting the number of screws in the packet that he has just purchased. Instead of 350 screws, there are only 323. It is the principle of the matter that aggravates Roberto, who always gives his customers more than they pay for. Darin has a face you are unlikely to forget; you may have seen him in his knockout role in Nine Queens (2000).
We quickly learn a lot about Roberto. He lives alone and is uncomfortable when people are around him. Mari (Muriel Santa Ana), who lives in the country and with whom he once had an affair, is back in town and keen to renew their relationship. Ana has a warm and genuine presence with all the communication skills Roberto lacks. Integrity and suffering are the two qualities she recognises in Roberto, who lives a solitary life, with curt communication with his customers and regular visits to his parents' graves. The only unusual thing about him is his hobby - collecting unbelievable stories, which he researches from newspapers and keeps in a book of cuttings.
Then life takes a sharp right turn, when Roberto sees Jun (Ignacio Huang), a young Chinese man being thrown from a taxi, having just come to Argentina to find his uncle. Roberto's natural goodness and instinct to help kicks in and he takes Jun home temporarily but is keen to be rid of him. Roberto speaks no Chinese and Jun speaks no Spanish and all Roberto's efforts to help Jun find his uncle come to a dead end. It is in these circumstances that an unusual relationship begins between the two of them - mostly through gestures. For Mari, there is no language barrier.
The fascinating thing about this film is the way the story progresses piece by piece and step by step, during which time we get to know the characters better, while they get to know each other. The scene in which the delivery boy for the local Chinese Takeaway acts as translator at a pivotal moment, made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. There's a sudden burst of pace as the revelations are revealed and by the time the resolution has presented itself, it is impossible not to be profoundly moved. It ends at precisely the right moment, leaving the final elements to be immortalized in our imaginations. This is a gem of a film that once seen, will never be forgotten.
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CHINESE TAKE-AWAY (M)
Un Cuento Chino
CAST: Ricardo Darin, Muriel Santa Ana, Ignacio Huang, Enric Rodriguez, Ivan Romanelli
PRODUCER: Pablo Bossi, Juan Pablo Buscarini, Gerardo Herrero, Axel Kuschevastzky, Ben Odell
DIRECTOR: Sebastian Borensztein
SCRIPT: Sebastian Borensztein
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rolo Pulpeiro
EDITOR: Pablo Barbieri Carrera, Fernando pardo
MUSIC: Lucio Godoy
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Laura Musso
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 30, 2012