Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, is exiled to a small island for political reasons. On the island, the unemployed son of a poor fisherman is hired as an extra postman due to the huge increase in mail that this causes. Il Postino is to hand-deliver the celebrity's mail to him. Though poorly educated, the postman learns to love poetry and eventually befriends Neruda. Struggling to grow and express himself more fully, he suddenly falls in love and needs Neruda's help and guidance more than ever. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Although "Il Postino" simply means "The Postman", and although the film was at one time screened as "The Postman" in Britain, it is now generally known in English by its Italian title to avoid confusion with Kevin Costner's post-apocalyptic epic from three years later. It is loosely based upon the novel "Ardiente paciencia" by the Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta, although it transfers the action from Chile to Italy. It takes as its starting-point the fact that in the early 1950s the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, in exile from his homeland for political reasons, spent some time on the island of Capri. The film, however, is not set on Capri but on an unnamed Italian island.
A young fisherman named Mario Ruoppolo applies for a job as the island's postman. As he owns a bicycle and is one of the very few islanders who can read and write he is accepted and is told that he will only have one customer, Neruda himself, as because of the low levels of literacy on the island nobody else ever receives any mail. (Were standards of education really so low in fifties Italy?)
Although Mario has never previously heard of Neruda, and certainly has never read any of his poems, a friendship gradually grows up between the two men. Although Mario has had little formal education he is clearly an intelligent and sensitive man, and Neruda reads him some of his poetry (in Italian translation), teaching him about literary concepts such as metaphors. With Neruda's help Mario woos the beautiful Beatrice, a village girl with whom he has fallen in love, stealing some of the older man's love poems and passing them off as his own in order to win her affections.
My one criticism of the film would be that it is too sentimental about Communism, but that is perhaps only to be expected of a film from Italy, a country which at one time had the largest Communist Party in Western Europe. (In the seventies they used to win around a third of the popular vote, at a time when the British Communist Party generally consisted of three old men and a dog). Pablo Neruda is here portrayed as a kindly, idealistic gentleman, but in reality, during the forties and early fifties, he was a Communist hardliner who enthusiastically defended Stalin's dictatorship in the Soviet Union. After Khrushchev's 1956 "secret speech" he was to criticise the Stalinist cult of personality but this was due less to a change of heart than to a desire to align himself with the new official Soviet party line. He was also, at the time of his Italian exile, around twenty years younger than the character portrayed here by Philippe Noiret.
Its politics aside, however, "Il Postino" is in many ways an excellent film. There is some attractive photography of the Italian coastal scenery and a great musical score by Luis Enríquez Bacalov. What really makes the film stand out, however, are the two great performances from Noiret and from Massimo Troisi, who tragically died of a heart attack soon afterwards, as Mario. There is also a good performance from the lovely Maria Grazia Cucinotta as Beatrice. Troisi received a posthumous Oscar nomination for "Best Actor", but lost out to Nicholas Cage in "Leaving Las Vegas"; as I have never seen that film I am unable to comment on the justice of that decision. I felt, however, that it was unfortunate that there was no nomination for Noiret either as "Best Actor" or "Best Supporting Actor". Indeed, this is one of those films which make me feel that it should be possible to nominate two actors for a joint award, as Noiret and Troisi combine together so well that their joint contribution seems greater than the sum of its two parts. This is the story of a touching relationship between two men of different generations, of different nationalities, of different levels of education and of different outlooks on life who are nevertheless united in friendship. 8/10
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