No one on earth can understand an immigrant better than another immigrant. A truism for sure but which has seldom been illustrated so well as in "Io sono Li" (Li and the Poet), the first fiction film of Italian documentary maker Andrea Segre.
Immigration is embodied here by two complementary figures, Shun Li and Bepi.
Shun Li is a young Chinese woman who has succeeded in emigrating to Italy, without her son (whom she sorely misses) but with a debt to pay back to the illegal network that "helped" her to get there.
Bepi, on the other hand, is an old retired fisherman and amateur poet who left Yugoslavia for the little laguna town of Chioggia thirty-five years before.
Both will meet in the osteria (bar-restaurant) where Li works as a replacement barmaid and of which Bepi is a regular and a touching if difficult relationship will develop between them.
That is all there is to this film in terms of narrative, but "Io sono Li" does not need a strong plot to manage to exist. This delicate gem actually delivers much more than its story : a fine description of a rarely shown little town in the Venetian Lagoon, an attack against illegal emigration network, a criticism of intolerance and, best of all, the sensitive portrait of two engaging loners wonderfully played by Tao Zhao (the muse of director Jia Zhangke) and Rade Serbedzija (the Croatian actor who played the bio-chemical expert in "Mission Impossible: II).
When you leave the theater you understand "Io sono Li" is a real achievement.
It has all the virtues of a documentary without being dryly factual.
It is moving, even very moving as the film comes to its close, but without resorting to cheap tear-jerking tricks.
It is an involved work but its commitment is discreet and remains in the background
To make a long story short, 'Io sono Li' is a remarkable first feature that should not be missed.
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