Il Postino: The Postman – 1995
This was a sweet little foreign film from Italy. It was presented as a romance, and to be sure there was plenty of romance in the plot. But I believe that the romance was actually a sub-plot. The real drama of the movie was about the main character as his life is changed by his friendship with the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. It was a film about the nature of friendship and awakening to beauty.
Massimo Troisi played Mario Ruoppolo, the son of a poor fisherman on the island of Procida in Italy. He is not very bright, has had very little education, no self-confidence, and no interest in becoming a fisherman like his father. He takes a temporary job as a postman with a single delivery address. Pablo Neruda, played by Philippe Noiret, has fled his home country as a political exile, and now lives in Italy with his wife, Matilde, played by Anna Bonaiuto.
The original book by author Antonio Skarmeta, is both cute and original. In it, Mario befriends the famous poet and develops a love for poetry. Through his friendship with Neruda, Mario learns to be a more confident man, and wins the love of the beautiful barmaid he has loved from afar. Beatrice Russo, played by the beautiful Maria Grazia Cucinotta, ignores him at first, but she is soon wooed by Mario’s recitations of Neruda’s love poems.
Eventually, with Neruda’s help, the two marry and Mario begins to have dreams of writing his own poetry. When Neruda’s exile ends, he returns to Chile, but promises to return some day to visit his friend. However, his return comes too late. When he at long last keeps his promise, he is saddened to learn that Mario has died. His newfound confidence had led him to take part in political activism, and he was killed at a communist gathering in Naples where he was supposed to recite his own poetry. Beatrice and Mario’s son, Pablito, are left alone to greet Neruda and his wife.
The story was sad and uplifting at the same time. I think that it had several goals which it accomplished very well. First, it was saying that poetry has the power to change lives. Not only did it change Mario’s love life, it gave him the further courage to become a political activist, calling for change in an ineffectual system of government. Second, it was celebrating the poetry of the real Pablo Neruda, and I’ll explore that a little more in a moment. And third, it was just plain entertaining. The plot kept my interest and I felt good about the ending, despite its tragedy.
But doing a little reading about the film, I learned that the tragedy was even greater than just the fictional story. I learned that Massimo Troisi, who played the lead character, Mario, had a heart condition. He should have had heart surgery while Il Postino was being filmed. But he was so committed to making the film that he postponed his medical care until the filming was completed. Sadly, the actor died of a heart attack the day after filming wrapped. Consequently, the film was dedicated to him.
Now, I have never been a huge fan of poetry. I like it well enough on occasion, but it has never been a passion. But hearing some of Neruda’s poems in the course of the movie, I can quickly understand why he is so loved. His use of language is beautiful and powerfully descriptive. His use of metaphor, which is a theme in the film, is amazing and displays the author’s deep passions. His love of nature and his love of women and romance speak directly to our emotions, drawing wonderful and immediate responses from our hearts. Neruda was surely a master of his craft.
In fact, I am tempted to buy the soundtrack to the film because I have learned that 14 of Neruda’s poems that were connected with the movie are read by famous celebrities, Hollywood A-listers, and professional musicians like Julia Roberts, Raplh Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Wesley Snipes, Ethan Hawke, Rufus Sewell, Glenn Close, Vincent Perez, Samuel L. Jackson, Willem Dafoe, and Andy Garcia, as well as Sting and Madonna. In addition to the poetry, the music by Luis Bacalov was gorgeous. It was tender and endearing, evoking the feel of the romantic little story and the poetry of Pablo Neruda.
And finally, I have to mention the acting. I have to give special notice to Noiret and Cucinotta, both of whom stood out with wonderful performances. In fact, the entire cast did a great job, with only one exception: Massimo Troisi. His portrayal of the timid and lonely postman was just fine. He really got the emotional core of the character right. But his enunciation seemed to be… sloppy. I know what you are thinking. The film was spoken in Italian, a language which I do not speak. But I noticed that all the other actors seemed to speak the language clearly. I might not have understood the words, but I could easily make out the sounds. But Troisi seemed to be mumbling half the time. Maybe this was a choice made to show his character’s inherent insecurities, but when he spoke, it sounded like a native Italian would have trouble understanding his dialogue. Sorry Massimo.