Tuesday, October 30, 2012

“Shun Li and the Poet” - review

“Shun Li and the Poet” is a beautiful film and a beautiful love story directed by Andrea Segre and showing during the upcoming Starz Denver Film Festival.

Shun Li is a Chinese woman living in Italy. She is for all intents and purposes an indentured slave. She is working as a seamstress to pay off a Chinese broker who brought her to Italy (in search of a better life, we assume) and to earn enough money to have her 8-year old son brought to join her.

Zhao Tao as Shun Li is iridescent and deservedly won the Italian Oscar for her performance in this 2011 Italian film.

After working as a seamstress her boss/broker sends her to a small fishing village near Venice to work in an ‘osteria’ as a bartender. Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia), also called ‘the Poet’ by his friends has been coming to the bar for years. A Slav by birth he has been a fisherman in the village but is now ‘retired’.

Shun Li and Bepi find a gentle bond and friendship. They are both ‘immigrants’: she Chinese and he Slavic living in Italy. They both had fathers who were fishermen and both are lonely: he is widowed and somewhat alienated from his son and she is alone in a foreign land where she speaks little of the language and had to leave her son behind in China (we don't know anything about her husband or the father of her son).

Poetry also creates a bond: She is taken with a Chinese poet and celebrates a Festival of the Poets; he has a facility with rhymes.

Their poignant love story unfolds until prejudice and hate complicate it: a conflict between the local Italians and the Chinese expatriates.

This is a lyrical film that moves at its own pace. It is also a beautiful film to look at. The cinematography (Luca Bigazzi) superbly supports the mood and feel of the film. Sometimes the color is flat, almost atonal; at other times, particularly when the sun is low and Shun Li and Bepi are quietly sharing each others company, rich and warm.

This is one of those films that you will likely not get another chance to see in a theatre. See it at the Festival, which starts Thursday, November 1. It screens three times: Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7pm and Wednesday, Nov. 7 at 7pm and 9pm.

Interestingly, one of the films I liked very much from last year’s Festival also was about an Asian woman living in Europe: “Yukiko” has a Japanese woman trying to make her way in Paris.

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