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Hal Hinson - Style section, "An enchanting Italian serio-comedy."
This film won the 1995 Oscar for Original Dramatic Score.
The movie is inspired by an incident in the life of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Set in the 1950s on a remote island with no running water, Neruda comes for temporary solace, but instead finds eternal satisfaction in a land of good-hearted, illiterate fishermen. More importantly, in Mario he finds a lifelong (and utterly fictional) friendship. -- Desson Howe
'The Postman' Delivers
By Desson Howe
"The Postman" should be considered the sacred domain of the late Massimo Troisi, whose comic talents transform this Italian tragicomedy and whose death hangs mythically over everything. Postponing a heart operation to complete the project, the 41-year-old actor died 12 hours after filming was completed.
The movie, a loose adaptation of Antonio Skarmeta's novel "Burning Patience," is inspired by an incident in the life of Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet and diplomat who was briefly exiled on the Italian island of Capri. In the movie, set in the 1950s on a remote island with no running water, Neruda (Philippe Noiret) comes for temporary solace, but instead finds eternal satisfaction in a land of good-hearted, illiterate fishermen. More importantly, in Mario (Troisi) he finds a lifelong (and utterly fictional) friendship.
Not long after his arrival, the celebrated poet (a 1950s superstar) is besieged with letters, most of them from women. This volume of fan mail creates the need for a personal letter carrier. Mario, a fisherman's unemployed but literate son, applies for the job, and a special relationship begins.
Mario, who bears daily armfuls of correspondence, is awed by his single client who is awaiting-among other things-word of a possible Nobel prize. At first, he asks Neruda to autograph one of his poetry books. Then, Mario becomes increasingly courageous and inquisitive. He questions Neruda about the mystical creation of poetry. When Neruda explains "metaphor" to him with the sentence "the sky is weeping," Mario's eyes are opened to untold possibilities.
Having just fallen in love with local bombshell Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), who runs a restaurant and plays a mean game of table soccer, he's more than abstractly interested in the art's dramatic effects on women. Neruda, who likes this pushy but sweet local, becomes his Latin Cyrano de Bergerac and helps him with his romantic mission.
On one level, this bucolic buddy movie comes perilously close to overendearing Italian-movie territory. (It even has the sort of enchanted isle found in "Mediterraneo.") But the screenplay (which is credited to a small crowd: director Michael Radford, Anna Pavignano, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli and Troisi) is refreshingly witty and restrained. And Troisi, whose thin, stubbled features suggest a Mediterranean combination of Ralph Nader, John Cleese and David Byrne, takes the potentially cheap situation and enriches it. When he begs Neruda to create a poem that will charm Beatrice, the aging wordsmith is reluctant. The mailman retorts that, with all the fuss the old man is kicking up over one poem, he doesn't think Neruda has a chance of taking the Nobel. The simplicity of the statement, uttered in Troisi's halting, firm manner, is subtly hilarious. Underneath this apparent simpleton is the presence of a great comedian, who should have had the opportunity to do so much more.
THE POSTMAN (IL POSTINO) (PG) - Contains minor sexual themes. In Italian with subtitles.
'Postman': Poetry in Motion
By Hal Hinson
The burnished sea, the starry night, the sun-warmed soil: "Il Postino" (The Postman) is an enchanting Italian serio-comedy about the most unlikely of cinematic subjects-the origins, structure and reach of poetry. "Dead Poets Society" touched upon the subject, but this felicitous, more modest film takes the notion to heart. Words share equal time with the seductive Neapolitan scenery.
Set on a remote island just off Italy's southern coast, the film marries the slap of the fishermen's nets, the clangor of the church bells and the cadences of Chilean Pablo Neruda's lyrical love poems. Neruda, exiled from Chile for his Communist beliefs in 1952, found sanctuary on this mountainous isle. The film's plot-an account of Neruda's friendship with the simple fellow who delivers his mail-is fictional, though.
Adapted from Antonio Skarmeta's novel "Burning Patience," the story is set in motion when the local postmaster hires an extra man to handle the newcomer's fan mail. Mario Ruopplo (Massimo Troisi), the Gumpish son of a taciturn fisherman, is overjoyed to get the job and escape his father's boat.
Neruda (Philippe Noiret) is aloof when Mario arrives with his first sack of mail, but the postman's awkward charm and persistence gradually win the older man's amused indulgence. Neruda introduces Mario to poetry, an exchange that is condescending at first, but far from one-way. In mentoring Mario, who is overjoyed to learn about metaphors, Neruda renews his appreciation for the power of words.
Matters take a farcical turn when Mario borrows Neruda's sensuous verse to woo the as-yet unattainable Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Despite interference from Beatrice's formidable aunt, the girl is won over, and Mario asks for her hand in marriage. And he's offended when Neruda objects to this appropriation of his poem. "Poetry doesn't belong to those who write it, but to those who need it," he explains.
The bittersweet screenplay, which makes liberal use of Neruda's poetry, is credited to five other authors. Among them are Troisi and Michael Radford, who also directed the film with an elegance that eluded him in past films such as "White Mischief." He surely found inspiration in Troisi, whose marvelous performance was sadly his last.
In need of a heart transplant, the Neapolitan insisted upon finishing the film first. He died in his sleep at 41, just hours after he finished filming. There is no poetic justice in that, but "Il Postino" is an ode to Troisi's courage and his enormous talent.
Il Postino, in Italian with English subtitles, is rated PG.