IO SONO LI || 2011 || Italy || Drama || Directed by – Andrea Segre / Written by – Andrea Segre, Andrea Pettenello / Produced by – Francesco Bonsembiante, Francesca Feder, Arnaud Louvet, Nicola Rosada / Music by – Francois Couturier / Cinematography by – Luca Bigazzi / Starring – Zhao Tao, Rade Serbedzija, Marco Paolini / Running time: 100 mins.
Shun Li and the Poet is a tough shelled, bleak melodrama that pays attention to its social background, examining themes of migration and cultural contrast with great respect and intelligence. It certainly shows the mark and knowledge of Andrea Segre’s earlier human rights documentary works. This is his fiction feature directorial debut.
The story takes place in the Italian provincial town of Chioggia, near Venice. It is here that a Chinese woman, Shun Li, is transported to work at a bar and pay off her debt to a loan-shark. The pain of her separation from her eight-year old son, as well as the shock of finding herself in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs, is soothed by her meeting with an older, sympathetic man named Bepi. Bepi is lovingly known as the Poet by the locals for having a way with words.
The two develop a friendship, which nevertheless threatens to escalate in a full blown contrast between the Italian natives and the Chinese community in Chioggia, that is slowly taking over many of the town’s businesses. The mixture of small town chatter and racial prejudices triggered by the friendship, however, seems to have nothing to do with the friendship itself, which is full of sweet and subtle warmth. It also serves to represent the amicable meeting not only of two kindred spirits, but two different cultures. Bepi himself migrated to Italy from his native Croatia many years earlier.
None of the dramatic aspects are exaggerated. Neither is the political implication of the connection between the two leading characters accentuated to an overbearing amount. Everything is carefully handled by Segre’s careful touch, and carried forward by a sense of realism tied with poignancy, evoked by the cinematography and darkly lit, melancholic Venetian landscapes.
Equally as important to the credibility of Shun Li and the Poet are the balanced and restrained performances by Jia Zhangke regular Zhao Tao, and Rade Šerbedžija, in Italian speaking roles. The feat of their performances in a foreign language is even more remarkable when considering the importance of words in the film, a film poetry being an important narrative element and underlying factor.” – 4/5