Tuesday 20 March 2018

A poetic look at love and culture

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Shun Li and the poet (12A, general release, 100 minutes) 4 STARS

Director: Andrea Serge Stars: Shao Tao, Marco Paolini, Rade Serbedzija, Giuseppe Battiston

Gentle, heartwarming and quietly insightful, Andrea Serge's Shun Li and the Poet dramatises the clash between two uncomprehending cultures.

The film takes place in Chioggia, a busy coastal town that's only 25km south of ritzy Venice but might as well be on the other side of the moon. The hardy fishermen, factory workers and minor criminals who frequent a salty waterfront tavern are perplexed one morning to find a small Chinese woman tending bar.

She is Shun Li (Zhao Tao), a recent, and reluctant, immigrant. Her family got in debt to the triads, and Shun Li is being forced to pay it off. She's shunted around Italy by mobsters and put to work in sweatshops and warehouses. In Chioggia, the gangsters have branched out into the service industry, and Shun Li is brought in to run a small and shabby bar.

At first, the locals make fun of her non-existent Italian and order odd drinks in order to confuse her. But Shun Li's persistent good humour soon wins them over, and one man in particular begins to fall in love with her.

Granite-faced Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija plays Bebi, a fisherman with a love of wordplay who begins to teach Shun Li the rudiments of Italian language. And when he finds out that she's been separated from her son, Bepi's feelings for her only grow stronger.

Serge, primarily a documentary maker, summons echoes of de Sica, Rossellini and the neorealist tradition in a film that painstakingly presents the dilemmas of immigration. He shoots simply and cleanly against the mysterious backdrop of the Laguna Veneta, uses natural light whenever possible, and tells his story with a winning mix of humour and compassion.

Irish Independent

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