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Il Postino (1994)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997

One of the most difficult relationships to portray accurately on film is that of friendship, simply because it involves nuances of behaviour. By contrast, playing roles of love and hate is comparatively easy due to the intense emotional forces which are, generally, transmitted. This difference is just where Il Postino succeeds in being utterly captivating and convincing. The friendship in question is that which grows between Mario (Massimo Troisi) and Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret), two men who couldn't outwardly appear to be more different. Mario is the semi-illiterate son of a fisherman which is fine except that he is allergic to boats, leaving him unemployed. Pablo is a world famous Chilean poet who has had to leave his country, due to his Communist leanings, and sit out his exile on the small Italian island where Mario lives. Pablo's popularity is such that he receives huge amounts of mail, overwhelming the island post office and requiring the hiring of a new postman - Mario.

On the first day Mario's feelings are a joy to behold - he is is a stew of awe, respect, longing and happiness. Never before has there been someone like Pablo on the island, someone who is worth talking to and Mario doesn't want to blow his opportunity. The poet doesn't know this, of course, and just takes his letters as normal. However, as time passes, Mario realises that almost every letter is from a woman - obviously Pablo knows how to charm women and perhaps he could help him? Slowly his visits become more than a delivery - a few words pass between them as Mario falteringly asks about poetry and Pablo, seeing his enthusiasm, does his best to explain. Mario obtains a book of his poetry for Pablo to sign. He does, with the words "Regards, Pablo Neruda". Mario is devastated; how can he impress women with this!

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of their friendship is that it is based on mutual respect - although Mario is a 'simple', unschooled man Pablo treats him as his equal (which he is) while Mario, despite his reverence, is unafraid to argue his point-of-view. We can see this when Mario precipitously falls in love with the beautiful, young bar-maid Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta) and asks for help in wooing her. Pablo won't write a poem for Beatrice (since he doesn't know her) but he does offer his advice, given when they visit the bar together. Unfortunately, when Pablo is able to return to his native land it is as if the colour has been leached from the tiny island. The glorious scenery, which had seemed so alive under the velvet tongue of Pablo, becomes two-dimensional and transparent. It takes more than mere separation to split up such companions as these though...

It's often expected that European films will have strong performances (which isn't always true) but Il Postino is exceptional. Troisi is unforgettable and perfect in his characterisation - every slight movement, flickering look or understated gesture is believable. Somehow he manages to put more into a fleeting glance (with his large, expressive eyes) than most actors put into an entire film. In harmony with this perfection, every other actor is excellent (Noiret especially), fitting into this small fishing community smoothly. The story is warm, shot through with humour and deeply moving - although the acting is so good that it hardly feels scripted. Poignancy is added by the fact that Massimo Troisi died the day after filming ended (due to his postponing heart surgery) but Il Postino should not be held up as a great film because of this. Instead, this affecting film stands tall in its own right as a 'must see' movie. There can be no finer epitaph.

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