Shun Li and the Poet Andrea Segre

Shun Li and the Poet Andrea Segre
6
In a way, Andrea Segre's first narrative film is like a politically charged Lost in Translation, only without the many musically driven montages and sense of worldly possibility. The titular Shun Li (Tao Zhao) works at an Italian café in Chioggia, primarily to earn enough money to bring her son over from China. Having no one to connect with while learning the ropes and quirks of the community regulars at her new place of employment, she's hesitantly receptive to the friendliness of another Italian import, Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia), a Yugoslavian working as a fisherman in the rural Italian locale. Much like in Translation, their connection is an unlikely one, driven mostly by mutual loneliness and alienation in a foreign land. What distinguishes Shun Li and the Poet is the eventual sense of oppression the pair of budding lovers receives from the locals. Other café regulars, griping about the ability to employ eight Chinese for the same price as one Italian, insist that Shun Li is merely looking to get her hands on Bepi's bank account. In a way, this passive bigotry as an oppressive force, while obviously the antagonist of the film, is the guiding impetus behind Segre's slow-moving, neorealist drama. Shun Li, as a character, is a passive vessel; she's politely firm about her workplace responsibilities, but remains subdued when confronted with insults or negativity. As a person, she seeks only to reconnect with her son, which is understandable, but it leaves little to question or examine in an opposing capacity, as she eventually, and gradually, opens up to the more contradictory and human Bepi, revealing herself to be someone with a very prosaic past. As a victim — a paradigm of virtue — her eventual submission to the demands of an oppressive society makes her a martyr and symbol for the greater cultural imbalance Segre is preoccupied with. Having a documentary background, his tendency towards didacticism isn't surprising, nor is it particularly condemnable, but since the central love story is little more than a lyrical tale, spruced up with candid observations, there's a slight hollowness where the emotional punch is meant to leave a lasting effect. Still, the natural handling of the material does keep things from becoming overly saccharine and the mature restraint in keeping the escalating racial insensitivity from devolving into melodrama is commendable. Since this is a Film Movement DVD, a thematically similar short film is included. Craig Rosenthal's Shanghai Love Market takes the idiosyncratic approach to chastising the insincerity of arranged marriage. It's a diversionary and slight work that reaches its ironic climax with a sense of self-satisfaction that's far too glib for its own good. (Film Movement)