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Chinese Take-Away

A winsome Argentine comedy about a grumpy man who takes in a Chinese refugee

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At its core, Chinese Take-Away is a familiar story — lonely people forced into a situation forge connections and reignite their suppressed humanity — but writer-director Sebastián Borensztein's gentle Argentine comedy has a winsome charm all its own. 

Roberto (Ricardo Darín) is a grumpy loner, running a small hardware store in Buenos Aires, and living in the flat above it. Then, he sees a young Chinese man (Ignacio Huang) tossed out of a cab, and through pantomime, grudgingly takes the non-Spanish-speaking refugee into his home until his ta pau ("uncle") can be found.

The film offers riffs on the vagaries of fate (and its relative, coincidence), and whether life is meaningless and absurd, or has its own internal logic. Roberto lives a life of strict routine, but his hobby is clipping newspaper accounts of bizarre accidents and re-imagining them with people he knows.

For a sentimental feel-good film, Borensztein makes a few daring choices: Except for the opening scene, nothing particularly dramatic happens; the Chinese visitor is never subtitled, so most viewers are as baffled by his explanations in Mandarin as Roberto is; and the payoff is astonishingly low-key, yet still moving. 

Darín (The Secret in Their Eyes) and Huang are both marvelous, building a relationship between their two characters — and with us — almost exclusively through physical gestures, tone and facial expressions.

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