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Shun Li and the Poet (4 stars)

Quietly absorbing drama about the friendship between two outsiders in Italy

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Shun Li and the Poet

Single mother Shun Li (Zhao Tao) is a Chinese immigrant in Italy, who’s compelled to keep working for her handlers until they decide that her 8-year-old son can join her in the West. Moved from seamstress duties in a textile factory on the outskirts of Rome to tending a bar in the coastal community of Chioggia near Venice, she encounters a widowed Slavic fisherman Bepi (Rade Serbedzija), who’s nicknamed ‘Poet’ by his colleagues. A platonic friendship develops between these two outsider figures, which earns the suspicions of both her employer and several of his fellow drinkers.

This debut fiction feature from Italian documentary-maker Andrea Segre is a delicately observed tale, which uses the dynamics of its central relationship to explore wider themes of immigration, belonging and economic change in contemporary Europe. There’s a restrained quality to the performances and to Segre’s storytelling, which trusts the viewer to be gradually absorbed by the everyday routines and interactions of Shun Li and Bepe. Atmospherically shot by Paolo Sorrentino’s regular cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, Shun Li and the Poet draws deeply on the wintry setting of Chioggia itself, with its misty canals and surrounding lagoon waters overlooked by the Dolomite mountains. Francois Couturier’s score is overly emphatic in places in tugging at our heartstrings, but the film’s gentle humanity is to be cherished.

Limited release from Fri 21 Jun.

Shun Li and the Poet trailer

Shun Li and the Poet (Io sono Li)

  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • Italy/France
  • 100 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Andrea Segre
  • Cast: Tao Zhao, Rade Serbedzija, Marco Paolini
  • UK release: 21 June 2013

Chinese single mother Shun Li (Zhao Tao) is an immigrant in Italy, who while tending a bar in a small coastal town befriends a widowed Slavic fisherman (Serbedzija). This debut fiction feature from Italian documentary-maker Segre is a delicately observed exploration of themes of immigration, belonging and economic change.

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