“In 1986, my father had a store in the heart of Saavedra. At the beginning of the 90s, Chinese immigrants started to arrive. And even though my dad fought gram by gram, slice by slice, he couldn’t compete, and he had to close. Now, twenty years later, I begin my revenge.”
These lines belong to the beginning of the trailer for De acá a la China (“From Here to China”), a film by Federico Marcello that aims to offer a deeper understanding of the cultural exchange between the Argentine and Chinese people. Marcello pulls off triple duties for this one by not only writing and directing the film, but also starring in it as the son of a disgraced supermarket owner from the Buenos Aires barrio of Saavedra that travels to the Chinese province of Fujian to open… a supermarket, of all things.
Fujian is, according to Marcello, the place where 85 percent of Chinese immigrants to Argentina originate, so it offered the best setting for him to explore the ideas that were brimming inside of his head. In a recent interview with Clarín, he went further: “I wanted to show the culture and the Chinese reality, and put myself in the shoes and the skin of the Chinese people who are here in Argentina and try to insert themselves in our society as best they can.”
The trailer is filled with funny moments, including that bit which Marcello offers hard candy to a customer instead of coins as change, a massive wink to a tradition Chinese supermarket owners have been doing since what feels like the beginning of time.
The self-financed movie took over five years to finish and is the definition of a labor of love. Both Marcello and producer Pablo Zapata (who also stars in the movie) invested a large chunk of their savings to achieve the final product. But, besides all this artisanal and somewhat precarious production, the crew still found plenty of magic and assistance throughout the process. As they arrived in Fujian, for example, they ran into an Argentine transplant, Eugenio Donatello, who became a sort of guardian angel for the project and opened the doors to locations like the real, functioning supermarket used to represent the fictional one depicted in the film (fun side note: production had to be halted every time a real-life customer would walk in to make a purchase).
Donatello was just one in a series of good samaritans that made De acá a la China possible. In the director’s own words: “I was struck by the level of respect we received from the vast majority of Chinese people we met throughout the film. They helped and collaborated selflessly, even those customers who came to buy from the store and waited patiently, to shoot the scene that we asked. Without that invaluable aid, there would be no film.”