Michael Radford I 1994 I Italy
Simplicity is an element that, when used properly, can add immeasurably to a film. Such is the case of the delightful Il Postino, a poetic film about poetry itself that enchants the viewer with its utterly heartfelt tone and rare optimism. Il Postino is so simple, not just because of the story it tells, but because of the way it's executed. Director Michael Radford, this being his first Italian-spoken film, realizes the whole thing with admirable grace and unusual quietness. The film is set in a remote island of the Mediterranean; water shortages are many, the people are generally poor and, more often than not, the inhabitants tend to be rather isolated from the outside world. Mario Ruoppolo [an excellent performance by Massimo Trosi] is a somewhat timid but ingenious individual who day by day seems to be growing apart from his father, a fisherman. When in 1953 arrives there the popular Chilean poet Pablo Neruda [Philippe Noiret], who, having been exiled from his home country due to his communist views, seeks refuge in the Italian island, Mario is offered a new job as his postman. The wages are rather low, but Mario will do anything in order to obtain the job, because, as he's heard, Neruda is a woman charmer. Despite his aging, the poet seems to possess some sort of magical power over the women, who admire him endlessly. Mario is curious and he wants to learn from him. After delivering Neruda's mail for a while, an extraordinary relationship between the two is forged, with Neruda teaching Mario about poetry, relationships with women and the wonder of living.
Il Postino is a very unlikely film. Nowadays, cinema goers are constantly being treated as consumers, not as people. Low quality products are shamelessly crammed into our faces whilst marketing makes them look good, but, more often than not, truthful films are seldom released. Cinematic superficiality is something I hate, but Il Postino is a film so honest, beautiful and dripping with a passion for love and life that it makes you forget about all these things. Visually, the film is a feast for the eyes; the entire film is very finely photographed by Franco di Giacomo, who manages to capture images of elegiac loveliness, something that was deliberately done in order to go along with the films most pivotal subject: poetry. Despite its slow, steady tempo, Il Postino is amazingly engaging; every time something new occurs, the audience is either amused or surprised, and as the relationship between the poet and the postman starts to bloom, the film becomes so charming it's impossible to resist. The film proves to be very affecting and in many dimensions; emotionally, the resonance is loud and clear, but aurally too, due to Luis Bacalov's hauntingly gorgeous score, winner of an Academy Award.
Mario and Pablo Neruda are a very odd couple. Mario is rather shy and humble whereas Neruda is a powerful man, married to a beautiful wife and with a continual ambition for surpassing himself. Mario sees all these qualities in Neruda and he wishes to be like him. During one of his first visits, Mario obtains a book of Neruda's poems and asks him if he can sign it. His joy is palpable, because he knows that with a signed book by Neruda he will be able to conquer any woman he wants. However, to Mario's disappointment, the poet solely writes, "Regards, Pablo Neruda". It's not even personalized, so how will he fulfill his duty? How will he make a woman fall in love with him? He's truly devastated, and when he goes back to the post office, he tells his boss what happened, and asks him if he could go back and tell him to sign it again, this time as it should be done. Mario's determination to get what he wants is probably the characteristic that keeps him going. He perseveres up to the last point and seldom gives up.
From Neruda he learns the power of words, and as the viewer sees his interest in such things, we discover that, had he not been raised in such poverty, he may have been a brilliant poet himself. He learns how to construct metaphors; at first, Mario does not quite know what Neruda means, so Neruda explains to him that if he says that the clouds are crying, what does he mean? "When you explain poetry, it becomes banal. Better than any explanation is the experience of feelings that poetry can reveal to a nature open enough to understand it", Neruda tells him. When Mario generates his first metaphor, he claims that it did not count because it was accidental.
Il Postino, more than most films made today, contains such optimism and passion that it's a marvel to behold. The characters in the film may sometimes give up hope, but there is always that faith which resides in them that they never fully succumb. Il Postino does not strike you with the darkness and absolute pessimism that life has; rather, it opts to allure the viewer by illustrating a way of life that is as simple as it is pleasing. When Mario falls in love in the town bar with the seemingly unreachable Beatrice, he immediately seeks help in Neruda and tells him to write a poem about her. Needless to say, Neruda cannot do such a thing, as he has not even met her. Mario is so impressed by her uncommon beauty that one day he decides to go up to her and tells her that "Your smile spreads like a butterfly". By using metaphors, he captivates her and eventually they both go out. As their relationship develops, Mario's obsession with her gets even more intense, to the point that he begins to write about her naked body and how her "laugh is like a silvery spoon". Soon, Beatrice's grumpy aunt gets involved and she begins to suspect that the two of them may have had sexual relationships. The events that unfold in the film are so magical and told with such finesse that one is instantly mesmerized by them all. Perhaps one of the film's greatest assets is the collection of the themes it uses, and how they're all used; poetry, love, friendship and humour. Like Berardinelli said, there is more vitality and genuine passion here than in any ten big-budget extravaganzas.
The acting is sublime. Massimo Trossi, who postponed heart surgery in order to act in the film and died one day after filming had wrapped, gives a truly brilliant and sincere performance. Tentative and reserved, he's an uncultured man with lots of imagination, an individual with lots to say but with few mediums to say such things. Next to Neruda, he feels intimidated by his reigning presence, but he also admires him profoundly. Philippe Noiret, who starred in Cinema Paradiso, is also stunning in his role. He's depicted as a knowledgeable man with nothing to lose and lots to teach, a figure whose level of understanding serves as the foundation for Mario's new way of living.
Rich in moral and rewarding in terms of cinematic value, Il Postino is a film so enchanting I cannot believe anyone not liking it. Lush and stunning, the film contains images and scenes that are memorable and above all, the film is worth it because it actually has something to say and knows how to say it. Magnificently directed, finely acted and exquisitely told, Il Postino is a film both optimistic and heartwarming that is certain to elicit more than just one smile. Its lyrical gentleness is hard to oppose.