A haunting film about an unhappy young woman transported to the gritty outskirts of Venice by her Chinese gang masters, this contemporary snapshot of Italy is a slice-of-life reflection on the meeting of two cultures.

Chinese illegal immigrant Shun Li works in a textile factory in the suburbs of Rome in order to secure her papers and enable her eight-year-old son to come to Italy. She then moves to a small town in the hinterlands of the Venetian lagoon, to work as a waitress in a pub. An old Slavic fisherman named Bepi, nicknamed “the Poet”, has been a regular at the pub for years. He desperately grapples with the economic and social changes the region is going through. Soon, a friendship develops between Shun Li and Bepi which helps them both cope with their various struggles. However, their relationship ends up upsetting both the Chinese and local communities.

An unusual and compelling first feature deservedly selected for the Director’s Fortnight section of the Venice Film Festival, Shun Li and The Poet has a terrific central performance by Zhao Tao, Jia Zhangke’s muse in films like Platform and The World. The film takes the essence of an all-too-real situation (the recent influx of Chinese immigrants into the environs of Venice) that is also simultaneously a new look at aspects of Venetian life, refreshingly naturalistic and free of picture postcard tourism.

Director: Andrea Segre. Italy, 2011. Language: Italian. 100 minutes. Cert: CLUB
Starring: Zhao Tao, Rade Serbedzija, Marco Paolini

Click here to watch the trailer.
Click here to read The Guardian review.
Click here to read ‘China and Italy Meet in a Seaside Bar’, an article about the film in The New York Times.