Un Cuento Chino (2011) – Ricardo Darin is splendid in this Argentinian humanist drama

 

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Very rarely do I come across a film, observe one of it’s characters and say, “That’s me!”. This tender and funny little film from Argentinian director Sebastian Borensztein is one of those films. The protagonist of the film is a cynical, introverted, reclusive 50-yr old man Roberto (played by Ricardo Darin), who runs a hardware store in the city, all by himself. He leads a peaceful, sheltered existence and is very particular about his lifestyle. He is well-disciplined and doesn’t tolerate anyone asking him stupid questions. While he isn’t busy muttering abuses at imbeciles that give him a hard time and hardware dealers that screw him over, he is busy ordering valuable items from the Internet once in a year so that he can place them in front of the photograph of his deceased mother, which rests inside his showcase.

He also has another peculiar habit: he collects newspaper cuttings of freak accidents that has people, usually two of them, dying at the same time in absurd and sometimes hilarious ways. He always imagines himself as one of those people and also includes the people he despise in them, usually meeting their end at his hands. He finds his calm and quiet existence shattered when a young Chinese man named Jun intrudes his life. This Chinese man is shown at the beginning of the film, where he is seen sitting in a boat with his girlfriend in the middle of the river . He is about to propose to her. He takes out two rings and that’s when a cow drops out of the sky and falls on top of the boat, instantly killing her. A freak accident, just like the ones that Roberto reads in his papers. Robert doesn’t know about this yet.

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Jun speaks in Mandarin and Roberto finds it incredibly hard to communicate with him. He takes him to a police station, where Roberto gets into an altercation with a cop because he couldn’t digest his brutish and boorish behavior. He then takes him into an embassy and some other places and learns that Jun is looking for his uncle. Roberto, being not used to living with other people, initially can’t stand the idea of another man sharing his house but his conscience doesn’t allow him to put him out on the streets either. He tells him, “I am not used to living with other people”. Meanwhile, there is a woman in Roberto’s life, the sister of one of his delivery men. She has feelings for Roberto but he doesn’t reciprocate. He has the “been-hurt-already-many-times-don’t-want-to-get hurt again” syndrome. Seeing Roberto’s life and the kind of man he is, we want him to pursue a serious relationship with this woman. Roberto finally finds an interpreter and this solves the communication problem between him and Jun.

Roberto slowly reveals the man behind the hardened exterior he has cultivated and maintained all these years and we slowly learn why he has come to have such a cynical outlook on life. He also learns about Jun’s story and why he came to Argentina. As Roberto, Ricardo Darin is splendid and portrays him with an astounding sense of clarity and dedication. There are some traits of Roberto that I could very much relate to. Like I said earlier, I found myself looking at some of the scenes and Roberto’s behavior and asking to myself, “Am I going to be like him when I turn 50?” I loved the scene where he is cooking a delicious meal in his kitchen and muttering abuses at this nerdish customer who asked him an irritating question earlier that day. We can only see him from behind and we don’t see Darin’s face but we can hear his lines and the way he delivered his lines just cracked me up. My admiration for Darin has grown over the years and he has now joined the list of my favorite actors from around the globe. I always keep an eye out for whatever film he is doing next.

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