SHUN LI AND THE POET (Andrea Segre). 95 minutes. Subtitled. Screens Saturday (November 3), 9 pm, at the Carlton, and Sunday (November 4), 2 pm, Innis Town Hall, as part of the Diaspora Film Festival. See Indie & Rep Film Rating: NNNN
One of the city's more intriguing smaller festivals, the Diaspora Film Festival showcases films about the dispersion of peoples throughout every corner the world. It kicks off tonight (Thursday, November 1) with a screening of El Gusto that includes live Sephardic and flamenco performances. Another highlight is a free event Monday (November 5) where Atom Egoyan and Arsinée Khanjian discuss Egoyan's 1993 film, Calendar.
But don't miss Shun Li And The Poet, documentarian Andrea Segre's debut fiction feature. The lovely, if soft-edged, drama looks at Shun Li (Zhao Tao, familiar from Jia Zhangke's films), who's labouring in Italy to pay back a debt and bring her son over from China.
After being moved from a garment factory in Rome to a bar in Chioggia, a fishing town near Venice, she befriends fisherman and amateur poet Bepi (veteran character actor Rade Serbedzija), a recent widower who emigrated from Yugoslavia 30 years before. This soon gets Bepi's Italian cronies gossiping, and gets Shun Li in trouble with her superiors, who control if and when she'll see her son.
Segre pulls his punches depicting the darker sides of both cultures, and there's a touch of sentimentality at work, but the superb leads make us believe in each tentative step in their relationship, and the locale is so vividly filmed you can practically smell the lagoon.