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aka - Cuento Chino, Un
Argentina 2011
Directed by
Sebastián Borensztein
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Chinese Takeaway

Synopsis: When hardware shop owner, Roberto (Ricardo Darín), picks up Jun (Ignacio Huang), newly arrived from China, from the streets of Buenos Aires he finds his well-ordered, reclusive existence thrown seriously out of whack

The Spanish title for this film is Un Cuento Chino which translates as A Chinese Tale. It is only a slightly less misleading moniker than the film’s English language title, Chinese Takeaway. Despite what it suggests, writer-director, Sebastián Borensztein’s film has nothing to do with food or restaurants. I’ve also seen the film touted as “a Spanish Amélie” but you can dismiss that comparison outright. Not only is it from Argentinia but it’s about as much like the Audrey Tatou sparkler as a tortilla is like a brioche.

If you wanted to compare it to another film, then Pierre Salvadori’s Après Vous (2003), in which a hapless head waiter befriends a potential suicide, is much closer to the mark, although the restaurant connection is still misleading and the tone of Borensztein’s film is closer to the quietly underplayed work of Aki Kaurismäki than to French farce. You need to note that difference or risk disappointment.

So much for what Chinese Takeaway is not. What it is, is an engaging variant on the familiar idea of a curmudgeonly loner thawing out in the sunlight of human kindness. In this case, his own as much as anyone else’s.

Roberto’s mother died in childbirth and his father died when he was 19. leaving him a crummy hardware shop where he ekes out a living (one of my small quibbles as a realist is that he sells one packet of screws throughout the entire running time yet forever seems to be doing accounts or receiving new stock). He resents his customers, rebuffs the advances of a comely female friend (Muriel Santa Ana) and his idea of a good time is collecting news stories about random and absurd tragedies that occur to ordinary people.

In the lead role, Ricardo Darín comes up very well. There is a saying to the effect that there is no cynic who was not once an idealist and Darín perfectly embodies the sense of misanthropic resignation that defines such a character, spicing it with an acidulous tongue that is the source of a few quiet chuckles. In the support roles Huang and Santa Ana are excellently understated foils to his performance, the twin sources of human need that slowly wear away his defences.

At the heart of the film’s success is Borensztein’s script. Its restraint makes what could have been awfully sentimental tosh into a low key charmer. If you want plot, action and processed flavours, they are not on the menu but if you’re looking for fresh, simple ingredients lightly cooked, then place your order here.




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