In Buenos Aires, the bitter and methodic Roberto (Ricardo Darín) is a lonely man and the owner of a hardware store. Roberto collects bizarre worldwide news in an album as a hobby and his acquaintance Mari (Muriel Santa Ana) has an unrequited love for him, but Roberto is always evasive. One day, Roberto sees a Chinese man named Jun (Ignacio Huang) being expelled from a taxi and he helps the man. Jun does not speak Spanish and shows a tattoo with an address on his arm. Roberto heads to the spot with Jun and discover that the place belonged to Jun's uncle that sold it three and half years ago. Roberto goes with Jun to the around Buenos Aires to seek out his uncle but it is a fruitless search. Roberto lodges Jun in his house and finally finds a delivery boy to translate Jun and he learns the dramatic story of his life.

A touching, beguiling tale of two lost souls in Argentina.

SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: Roberto is a grumpy, taciturn middle-aged guy who runs a hardware store in Buenos Aires. Jun is a young Chinese immigrant who winds up in the city looking for a lost uncle.

Much of the humour springs from the awkwardness of the two adjusting to living under one roof in mutual incomprehension

Their paths collide with unpredictable results in Chinese Take-Away, a beguiling, affecting comedy-drama from writer-director Sebastián Borensztein. The relationship between this decidedly odd couple serves as a metaphor for the problems people have in communicating with other, not just across language and cultural barriers, and as a reminder of the lingering effects of a dark episode in Argentina’s history.

The plot relies on a couple of unlikely coincidences but as the opening slide states the film is based on a true story, maybe it’s not so far-fetched.

Roberto (Ricardo Darin) spends his days counting the number of screws in each packet so he can abuse the supplier for short-changing him, and displaying a curious fascination with newspaper accounts of bizarre deaths.

While indulging in airplane spotting, one of his few hobbies, he spots Jun (Huang Sheng Huang) when the distressed young man is ejected from the back of a cab and left by the side of the road. Jun has an address tattooed on his arm, Roberto takes him to that house but they discover the Chinese man who lived there moved out a few years earlier.

No Good Samaritan, Roberto then decides to leave Jun at a police station but reluctantly takes him home after the cops threaten to put the young man in jail. Showing a nasty side, Roberto head butts an objectionable, racist cop on his way out.

The next day at the Chinese Embassy Roberto learns that Jun is 25, an orphan and is looking for his uncle. Although protesting that 'I’m not used to being with people," he decides to give Jun shelter while he helps search for the uncle.

Much of the humour springs from the awkwardness of the two adjusting to living under one roof in mutual incomprehension, peppered with jokes about Chinese stereotypes, and Roberto abusing his 'imbecilic" customers.

Roberto’s difficulties in communicating with Jun are matched by his strained exchanges with Mari (Muriel Santa Ana), an attractive young woman from a country area with whom he’d had a brief fling six months earlier, and then ignored. Mari turns up at the shop, makes it clear she fancies Roberto and invites him and Jun to dinner. She says she’s drawn to his 'integrity and suffering," either an idealised view of his virtues or a canny perception of the humanity disguised by his curmudgeonly manner.

As Roberto’s patience starts to wear thin with his house guest, the tone darkens as both men open up about their past with the help of a Chinese take-away delivery man as a translator. The film develops a surprising degree of pathos and emotional depth, revealing why Roberto had withdrawn from the world. The depictions of a couple of deaths described in newspaper stories are imaginatively staged and, in one case, needlessly gory.

In another impressive performance after Nine Queens and The Secret in Their Eyes, Darin invests his character with weary, sad-eyed demeanour, a gruff outer shell masking his vulnerability. Huang is the perfect foil as Jun, who seems cordial and passive until his secrets spill out. Santa Ana is delightful as the warm, kind Mari.

Borensztein tells the story with a nimble economy, artfully blending the droll humour with a poignant plot development and a few surreal touches.

Related videos


1 hour 33 min
In Cinemas 20 September 2012,