A lighthearted and lightweight comedy will charm you while you are watching it, then leave you hungry for more a few hours later.
Winner of the Argentinean Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Film and Best Supporting Actress, along with the Audience Award at the Rome International Film Festival, there is little doubt that Chinese Takeaway (Un Cuento Chino) is aimed at being the same kind of crowd-pleasing fable in the vein of Amelie. From writer director Sebastián Borensztein, whose previous film was Sin Memoria (2011), it is a charming film that literally crosses borders. While the central comedy often relies on the mutual incomprehension of the leads, there is a universality to the theme that makes this a tasty treat indeed.
Irascible hardware store owner Roberto (Ricardo Darin) has systematically shut himself from the world around him, and short of a brief encounter with Mari (Muriel Santa Ana) some years before, he is more content to count nails and collect newspaper clippings of strange deaths from around the world. However, when he has a chance encounter with Jun (Ignacio Huang), a Chinese man who is looking for his only surviving relative in Argentina, Roberto relents and takes the hapless visitor in. Despite not sharing a single word in common, the walls of Roberto’s self-imposed isolation begin to erode and international boundaries are crossed.
Like the similarly themed Le Havre, which inhabited a bubble of time that never really existed, Chinese Takeaway firmly places itself inside a world of fantasy and coincidence. The tone for the film is firmly established in a surreal opening sequence, in which a cow falls from the sky, filling one-half of a newly married couple. There is without a doubt a sense of the inevitable once Jun enters Roberto’s life, as the film is hardly breaking new cinematic ground. Yet there is a simply joy in watching Roberto’s resistance fade, especially given his sometimes racist and frustrated rants at Jun. As the latter often sits there in silent incomprehension, it makes Roberto’s bluster all the more amusing for its lack of reaction. The message is clear: racism and fear of the other comes from ignorance, and the antidote is taking the time to learn a culture.
Darin is perfect in the lead role, the complete antithesis to his internationally recognised role in Juan José Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes, turning on a dime from a character we love to hate to one we love despite ourselves. Muriel Santa Ana, best known in the Spanish-speaking world as the lead in TV’s Ciega a citas, is a capable foil for Roberto, matching his acerbic tongue with overwhelming niceness. Yet it is Ignacio Huang that steals every scene he is in, often without speaking a single line of dialogue. Chinese Takeaway may not be a completely nutritious meal, but it is a simple pleasure, and sure to leave most viewers satisfied.
Chinese Takeaway is released in Australia on 30 August 2012 from Rialto Distribution.