The Postman can ring as many times as it likes
For those who tire of watching the banal norm which is mainstream Hollywood should check out the wealth of great cinema which comes from Italy, in particular the touching and fun "Il Postino" from 1994. Directed by Michael Radford "Il Postino" or "The Postman" as it is also known is a sweet drama which whilst encompassing a story of unusual friendship touches on poetry, politics, romance as well as heart break. And in many ways what makes it even more poignant and touching is that its star Massimo Troisi who also helped write the screenplay passed away the day after filming finished having postponed heart surgery so that he could make this stunning movie.
When famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret - Murphy's War) is exiled from his country for being a Communist he finds residence on the outskirts of a picturesque Italian village. Mario (Massimo Troisi) is the son of a fisherman and unlike his father does not enjoy life on the boats so takes the opportunity to be the postman delivering Neruda's post up to his hillside home. Curious about this aging poet who seems to get letter after letter from adoring female fans, Mario eventually plucks up the courage to talk to him. Soon these two become friends with Mario learning all about life, poetry and romance from Neruda who enjoys helping out this young man.
To break down "Il Postino" into separate elements would be to do it a disservice as it is the combined force of a story which covers politics, humour, romance and heartbreak which makes it so charming and captivating. But at the centre of all of this is the unusual friendship between uneducated postman Mario Ruoppolo and exiled poet Pablo Neruda. It is watching the unsure Mario talk to Pablo about anything from poetry through to romance and politics which makes it so interesting and at the same time watching Mario grow from a disillusioned man to someone who enjoys life that makes it so captivating. But like with life their friendship is not all plain sailing and along the way there are more than a few surprises, even shocks thrown at us which achieve their desired effect of playing with our emotions.
For a movie which draws so much emotion from the audience it is amazing that none of it feels manufactured. There is a beautiful restraint to the way this story, this friendship grows that whilst you find yourself one moment laughing the next crying it never once feels like you are being manipulated. And it has to be said that knowing Troisi died having completed the movie makes it all the more emotional especially in those quite moments which focuses on him deep in thought. In fact you get a sense that Troisi knew his time was coming to an end and that look he delivers is so touching so full of emotion that it is staggering.
But "Il Postino" is by no means a sad movie it has some fun moments especially in the way that Mario and Pablo become friends, with Pablo becoming a blend of teacher and father figure for the uneducated Mario. There are scene after scene of smile moments as well as a few which just bring a laugh gushing out from inside. But once more none of it feels like it has been manufactured rather a bit of humour drawn from the naturalness of life. Even the almost stereotypical quirkiness and eccentricity of various Italians doesn't feel wrong, just pure fun as in the scenes where Mario decides to record the sound of the waves, lugging around a huge recording device in an old pram.
And making it a pleasure to watch is the stunning cinematography most notably the various scenic shots be it on the beach by the cliffs, overlooking the ocean from up on top of a hill or an actual old building. It is one of those movies which whisks you away to another time and place and makes you so want to be there. And at the same time charming you with an equally stunning soundtrack featuring pieces played on Mandolin's which aid in whisking you away to this Italian paradise.
Whilst Massimo Troisi is the star of "Il Postino" Philippe Noiret as Pablo Neruda is key to it all coming together. Noiret creates such a great character in Neruda the almost quiet philosopher, the observer of life who becomes a mix of friend, father and teacher to Mario. It is as a restrained performance as that of Troisi making the interactions so real and charming as well as often humorous. Between these two they give "Il Postino" an air of grace and in the various tender moments you are transfixed by the emotion expressed just by a look rather than some moment of over acting.
What this all boils down to is that "Il Postino" is a great movie from start to finish. The storyline which covers this unusual but beautiful friendship, the elements of politics, romance, humour and poetry and the combination of brilliant cinematography and a touching soundtrack make it a very good movie. But the acting of Massino Troisi and Philippe Noiret as well as the restrained direction of Michael Radford take it to the next level and turn it from a very good movie in to one which is great, touching and totally memorable.