It may come as no surprise to learn that director Andrea Segre has in the past immersed himself in documentaries, such is the very human touch he brings to this drama Shun Li and the Poet.
The subject matter of this drama is pretty close to Segre’s heart, too, the Italian having previously focused his lenses on issues of immigration across his Italian homeland and on the stories of those who come to his country seeking a better life.
For Shun Li and the Poet, he trains his attention on Chioggia, a small town near Venice where his mother grew up and where he spent the summers of his formative years. That’s why, we can suppose, he presents the traditional lifestyle of the town’s inhabitants with a warmth bordering on reverence, supplemented by arching shots of the cobblestoned streets and the lagoon that for centuries has provided its inhabitants with their livelihoods.
But Segre also wants to show how the modern world has encroached here and so we have the drama set around a pub/café run by Chinese immigrants, including the newly arrived Shun Li (Zhao Tao), who is trying to pay off her debts and hopes to one day see her son join her in Italy.
The “poet” of the piece is an old Slav fisherman (Rade Sherbedgia) and in Shun he finds a kindred spirit, someone whom fate has forced far from home. We are there to delight as their friendship builds, but as it does, so does the gossip and the jealousy, as the very worst parts of human nature rear their ugly heads.
Zhao’s turn as the gently determined Shun gives the production its heart, and she was rightly acclaimed in Italy for her performance. She brings such a sense of inner strength to a character existing in this foreign town as a shadow might, only skirting this new society regardless of how hard she tries to find a way into it.
It is, of course, the fate of many, and the director leaves his audience feeling for their plight, and wondering – when all the sacrifices are laid out – just how hard things must have been back home. Extras: Shanghai Love Market short film.