IL POSTINO, or THE POSTMAN, a warm and moving labor of love comedy-drama from 1994, was based on the slim novel “Ardiente paciencia” (“Burning Patience”), written in 1985 by award-winning Chilean author Antonio Skármeta. He spun the book off another movie with that title he’d written & directed two years earlier (hard to find, Ardiente paciencia has a loyal following). The book and earlier film were set in Chile in 1970: this telling moves the locale to Italy and dials the year back to 1950.
Renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) finds himself a political exile on a small Italian island. Local fisherman ‘Mario Ruoppolo’ (Massimo Troisi) gets a temporary job delivering mail to the famous visitor. Uneducated and naive, the kindly Mario yearns for something more from life, and a growing friendship with Neruda sparks him with the idea of writing poetry himself. Taken with the younger man’s decency and sincerity, Neruda also aids the thunderbolt-struck Mario in courting beautiful ‘Beatrice Russo’ (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), working as a waitress in her aunt’s cafe.
Directed by Michael Radford (1984, White Mischief), this was a farewell gift from Troisi, popular in Italy as comedian, actor, writer and director. Suffering from a heart ailment throughout the shoot, the 41-year-old not only put his heart into the film, he literally gave it, dying just 12 hours after his last scenes were finished. Besides delivering a splendid, wonderfully nuanced performance of a spirit needing only a spark for its kindling, he also co-wrote the script (with Radford and three other collaborators) and helped as best he could with the direction. Veteran French actor Noiret, 63, a near ringer for Neruda, is also winning, painting a subtle portrait of the great poet as a man with the assurance of patience and the grace of humility. The absurdly ravishing newcomer Cucinotta, 26, is simply breathtaking, a voluptuous Mediterranean Madonna to rival Loren or Cardinale. Quietly funny, gentle and observant, it’s a lovely little story about the blessings of self-discovery, the heroic ability of one person’s conviction to profoundly affect another’s path, and the mystical power of poetry as expression of the soul. *
The $3,000,000 invested paid off to the tune of $21,899,000. Released in Europe in 1994, the next year in the States, when it went up for the Academy Awards. Nominations came for Best Picture, posthumously to Troisi for Best Actor and the 5-handed Screenplay, with Luiz Enriquez Bakilov winning for his music score. Sorry, that pick was simply out to lunch: it’s a quite pleasant soundtrack and worthy of a nomination, but the award should have gone to James Horner’s wonderful score for Braveheart, which justifiably took Picture and Director. Nicholas Cage walked away with the actor award for Leaving Las Vegas.
Filmed on the island of Procida in the Bay of Naples, with some additional scenes done on the Sicilian island of Salina. 108 humane minutes, with Linda Moretti, Renato Scarpa, Anna Bonaiuto and Mariano Rigillo.
“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.”
* Sicilian natural wonder Maria Grazie Cucinotta, for reasons this writer cannot fathom, is known in America only for this film and for playing a Bond bad girl five years later in The World Is Not Enough. In Italy however, where at least a few things make sense, she’s had a happy career, first as a model, then as an actress (87 credits as of 2020) and producer (11). She comes off bright, balanced and fun in interviews, is a good actress and physically is nothing short of spectacular. That she politely resists my pleas to become her bodyguard, gardener, chauffeur or cat-feeder is something I must bear like a cross. Gladly.