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MOVIE REVIEW – Il Postino (The Postman)


In Italian with English subtitles
Director: Michael Radford

Rating ****

Used with permission.This drama weaves romance, nostalgia and subtle humor through a time long gone and a place far away. Set in World War II, it drops the viewer into a charming little volcanic island off the coast of Italy and into the mind of an ingenuous peasant-turned-postman. Mario Ruoppolo (played by Massimo Troisi) is hired by the postmaster to deliver a steady stream of fan mail to a celebrity who has taken up residence there. The experience transforms Mario's world.

The island personifies Mario's small universe, which, for a short time, sparkles with stardust from beyond its shores. Its black beach, fishing boats, sun-bleached soil and misty hills are the only world that Mario has ever known. His home in the poverty-stricken fishing village at the bottom of a winding path contrasts starkly with the castle at the top where their star guest holes up.

Renowned Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret), spends several months in exile on the tiny island. Despite himself, the self-absorbed Neruda actually makes an important contribution to the life of the winsome Mario, a thirsty learner. Mario aggressively pursues Neruda, who seems to have a way with women, for advice on approaching his love interest, village beauty Beatrice Russo (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Neruda tutors him in his poetic fashion. Mario learns about poetry and love, and becomes (in his mind, anyway) a special friend and confidant of the poet. In the end, Mario turns out to be a gifted poet in his own right.

The tragedy of this tale for me is that someone who is talented enough to receive a Nobel Prize for literature seems to have no talent for noticing the needs of a wonderful human being under his very nose. Mario lives for any sign of recognition from Neruda...and doesn't get any till it's too late. But, on the other hand, the film is also a tale about two people who follow their calling.

After Neruda is allowed to return to Chile, his face continues to appear on movie screens everywhere. While he mentions the island and his exile in interviews and in poems, he never once brings up his "friend," Mario. And when a letter finally arrives for the Italian, it's only from Neruda's secretary asking that his possessions be returned forthwith.

As Mario takes a last trip to the castle to pack up Neruda's things, he walks around dreamily, lingers longingly over the poet’s belongings. Eventually, he uses the vintage tape recorder to record his own poem – about the waves, the stars, the night, the wind...all the sights, sounds and sensations of the island. This gets sent back to Neruda with his personal effects, and it must have touched the great man’s soul, because he returns to the island, ostensibly in search of his postman. But, by then, Mario is dead.

We know Mario never stopped worshipping Neruda when out comes his (and Beatrice’s) son Pablo, the poet's namesake. It's a poignant moment...but I'm still left wondering what really goes on in Neruda's head.

To purchase or obtain more information on this 1994 film, visit the Video Section of the www.GreatestEscapes.com Store, located at
www.greatestescapesstore.com/videos_1.html

Also watch for the upcoming Literary Trips: Following in the Footsteps of Fame Volume Two, to be released in Spring 2001, in which writer Douglas Fetherling details Pablo Neruda’s life in Chile, while other writers take you to their favorite literary haunts around the world. The Literary Trips series is edited by Victoria Brooks. Information about the first volume can be found at www.literarytrips.com