Shun Li and the Poet

SHUNLI_Rev_2013_LO 2 Written and directed by Andrea Segre, this film is set in a small fishing town in the Venetian Lagoon. It tells the story of a Chinese woman (Tao Zhao) finding her way into Europe. Working off her debt to the men who brought her in a waterfront bar, she has few choices; but she finds a friend in an older man (Bepi: Rade Serbedzidja) – a fisherman, like her father. Their friendship comes under attack because no one wants it, not Bepi’s friends,  certainly not the men who control Shun Li.

Strong story, strong performances.  But the real spell of the film is cast by cinematography – images that strike deep and linger.  Watery streets, lonely lives, candles floated in memory of Qu Yuan the Chinese poet whose words inspire Shun Li (Bepi is a rough and ready rhymer, the other ‘poet’ of the title).  The friends spend time out on the Lagoon in a fisherman’s hut and this is where the film comes into its own: glowing mountains, a luminous sky, water with the quality of paint.

I know this sounds stupid, but it reminded me that film is a visual medium.  We see so many narrative-driven films – and believe me, I’m all for narrative – but this was deeply satisfying on a different level.  I saw it a week ago, and the memory of light on water and mountains  got me up out of bed to write about it while the rest of you were all sound asleep.

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