The Postman (Il Postino)
Screenplay : Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, Massimo Troisi, and Antonio Skármeta (based on the novel by Ardiente Paciencia)
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1994
Stars : Massimo Troisi (Mario Ruppolo), Philippe Noiret (Pablo Neruda), Maria Grazia Cucinotta (Beatrice Russo), Linda Moretti (Donna Rosa), Renato Scarpa (Telegrapher), Anna Bonaiuto (Matilde), Bruno Alessandro (Pablo Neruda voice)
Michael Radford's "The Postman (Il Postino)" is the beautiful and moving story of an unlikely friendship between a simple man and a profound poet.
The man, Mario Ruppolo (brought to life with wonderful charm and feeling by the late Massimo Troisi) is a postman on a small Italian island in the early 1950s. The island is so small and backward that everyone seems to be either an illiterate fisherman or an illiterate fisherman's wife, and there's no running water except when supply ships deliver it once a month.
Mario, who is unmarried and living with his dour father, takes the postman job because he doesn't want to be a fisherman like everyone else. The job is simple: he only has one person he has to deliver mail to, but there is an awful lot of mail to be delivered, most of which comes from women. Mario learns who this person is while watching a news reel at the local movie house: the great Chilean poet Don Pablo Neruda (French actor Philippe Noiret), who is living on the island in exile because of his Communist beliefs. The news reel is quick to point out how popular Don Pablo is with the working class because of his politics, and how popular he is with women because of his love poems.
The head postman warns Mario to be very polite and not bother Don Pablo. But Mario is curious, and he begins to make small advances toward the poet. At first, he just delivers the mail, tells him thank-you when given a tip, then leaves. But later, after reading some of the poet's works, he builds the nerve to ask a question or two, and even request an autograph. Mario is crushed when the poet simply signs "Regards, Don Pablo Neruda" instead of writing out Mario's name, so people will know that the autograph was meant for him only.
Nevertheless, Mario remains undaunted in his desire to get to know the great poet, and soon they are discussing metaphors, or more exactly, Don Pablo is explaining to Mario what metaphors are. While Mario may be a simple and somewhat uncultured man, he harbors a great depth of feeling that is just waiting for a means to be let loose. Therefore, he is eager to learn and share in the beautiful mastery of language that Don Pablo has. The film seems to suggest that if Mario had been born in a different place at a different time, perhaps he could have been the poet that Don Pablo was.
The strength and heart of "The Postman" is its ability to take these two seemingly opposite men, and find the middle ground they both inhabit. They become great friends, and their relationship is touching and bittersweet. Few films are able to create such a moving, believable love story between two opposites, but "The Postman" does it with warmth and humor.
When Mario falls in love with Beatrice Russo (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), a young woman who works at the local tavern, he immediately goes to Don Pablo for help. Soon, Mario is wooing Beatrice with Don Pablo's metaphors and verses, much to the dismay of Beatrice's old-fashioned and very protective aunt. The film draws humor from the misunderstanding of poetry -- how the aunt assumes that if Mario utters a line of verse comparing Beatrice's naked breasts to fire, then he must have seen her naked. When Don Pablo tries to explain to her that they are only words, she shoots back, "Words are terrible things. First it's his words all over her, then it's his hands."
The best moments in "The Postman" are those between Mario and Don Pablo. Troisi brings great warmth and affection to the hesitant and shy Mario without being sentimental, and Noiret makes Don Pablo into a gifted and intelligent man who can still connect with men like Mario. The film shows how they both have strong points the other is lacking in, and how they rub off on each other, making each a better man.
All of this is cast against the beautiful backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea. Cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo captures the allure of the island and its inhabitants with a keen eye, and some shots, such as Mario pedaling his bicycle up a winding road with the sea and mountains spread out behind him, would make wonderful paintings.
The film is also a grand tribute to the power of words, something that is too often overlooked in today's fast-paced society. "The Postman" remembers when a woman could be brought to tears by a few lines of verse, or when men spent entire days pondering how to say something just right. When Mario asks Don Pablo to explain one of his metaphors in other words, the poet replies, "I have written it in the best possible words. To explain poetry is to make it banal." Few films have the kind of understanding.
©1997 James Kendrick