The other day I watched Shun Li and the Poet, a film about a Chinese woman working in northern Italy who befriends a fisherman who emigrated there from Yugoslavia thirty years ago. Neither of these characters are given much explicit backstory. We know that Shun Li’s father was a fisherman and we know that Bepi, the fisherman, has a son and two grandchildren. The setting itself features prominently in the film, as you can see from the screenshots below.
The wide lenses used for the film allow us to see the setting provided for the characters. This, combined with the haze that always permeates the island-town of Chioggia, gives us some striking backgrounds.
This is the shot that appears on the poster for the film. Shun Li is walking to work, wearing the high green wellies that every inhabitant of the island owns and carrying her bright red umbrella. Usually, Shun Li is somber and reserved. Not in this scene. She splashes around happily, taking delight in all the little idiosyncrasies of the town.
There are many great shots of the sea in the film, or rather, of the lagoon. Especially when the mist presses right up against the water, the lagoon has a extraterrestrial look to it. I chose this shot because Coppe’s red sweater provides a nice contrast to the smooth, grey water around him.
This shot is one of my favorites in the film, even though it’s not as pretty as the others. Shun Li is warned by her supervisors that she must stop spending time with Bepi, because the locals are beginning to gossip and it will reflect badly on the Chinese. The camera moves forward and around the table until it faces Shun Li as she sits bracketed by the two men. Mirrors appear in a lot of the scenes in the movie. In this one, the mirror on the back wall shows Shun Li small and inconsequential while the two men loom in the shadows.
The haze in the atmosphere gives all the outdoor scenes a certain tactility or three-dimensionality. There are other shots in this scene that give a better angle of the beautiful buildings in the background, but this close-up gives us a look into Shun Li’s eyes as she receives some bad news and then pulls up the hood of her coat around her face. It is an understated reaction in an understated film.