I perceived Io Sono Li, a film by documentary maker Andrea Segre, like a piece of conceptual art. That type of conceptual art that twists an ordinary object into something different, showing you a new angle, maybe a more poetic side, or a deeper meaning.
Italy in the last two decades has been a point of arrival for many low skilled foreign workers, including Chinese. Shun Li is one of them, sent first to Rome, and then moved to Chioggia (also known as La Petite Venise), by an undefined Chinese organisation. She starts working in an osteria in the dock area where local fishermen and pensioners meet for a drink, a game of cards, a celebration for the end of one’s working life. One of them, himself an immigrant from Yugoslavia who arrived 30 years earlier, feels a connection with the new barista who speaks few words of Italian, let alone the local dialect. Bepi, who calls his real home a shack on the water of the laguna, is locally known as “the poet” and is the type of man that sees things with eyes wide open, a cut above the rest of the group, a simple wise man that is curious and understanding.
The two characters break walls and boundaries that are normally very high in the everyday experiences of Europeans rubbing shoulders with Chinese.
And this is what is most interesting about this film for me, learning that no matter what differences and hardships people experience they can learn to connect. This is what makes popular culture alive (and in fact Chinese and Italian cultural references feature in the background, becoming universal).
We can be affected by macro economic theories, social policies, geopolitics, criminal organisations activities and all of that, but in the end it’s up to us to find ways to learn about each other and see things from a perspective which is closer to us than we think.
This film is a true gem that can hardly be seen in the mainstream. Hopefully, having won the European Parliament Lux Prize, it will be distributed at a cinema near you. Do not miss its bittersweet taste.