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Shun Li (Zhao Tao) is a thirtysomething single mother from China who comes to Italy with the hope of providing a better life for herself and her son. Unfortunately, Shun Li owes money to the people who transported her to Itlay and shifting from job to job makes it difficult for her to pay off her loanshark as well as save enough money to bring her son over as well.

She eventually gets a job as a barmaid in a shabby waterfront tavern in the fishing village of Chioggia; there, she meets Bepi (Rade Serbedzija), an exile from Eastern Europe who has a fondness for poetry. Shun Li befriends Bepi and begins to tell him stories about Qu Yuan, China’s most celebrated poet bringing the two closer and closer until it becomes clear that their relationship has the potential to become something more romantic. This doesn’t sit well with the Chioggia natives who make it clear that they don’t approve, especially given their suspicions about Shun Li’s Chinese heritage.

Shun Li and the Poet is a thin but haunting film that carries a malancholy tone and an air of tranquility that gives the audience lots of time to ponder the feeling of leneliness that surrounds the two main characters. It’s a lovely shortcut into their psyches that doesn’t feel manipulative or over written. Shun Li and Bepi are two extrmely unhappy people who take solace in the written word as the only beauty they have access to in their lives.

Director (and former doc umentary filmmaker) Andrea Sagre has created a slow burning and pensive exploration of prejudice that deals with the dicey and often overwrought subject matter in a delicate way. It’s certainly not always an easy film to watch but it’s very certainly beautiful in its own quiet way.

Is Shun Li and the Poet Essential Italian Film Fest Viewing?

The film can sometimes test one’s patience but this poignant film is well worth the trip out.

Shun Li and the Poet Screening Time

Shun Li and the Poet Trailer