Tuesday, November 13, 2012


(June 1995, U.S.)

Without actually bothering to check into the archives of my own movie blog for clarity, it feels like it's been ages since I discussed a foreign subtitled film. Feels good to return to that genre again.

Looking back at the 1990s, I think I experienced my greatest enthusiasm for foreign films on screen during that decade. From CINEMA PARADISO (1990) to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1992) to LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998), foreign cinema seemed to develop quite a surge with audiences, critics and Oscar voters, as well. During the 1990s, I was also living in New York City and was affordered greater access and greater opportunities to see these foreign films on the big screen. By the time I got around to IL POSTINO, the massive attention and the Oscar buzz were everywhere. The other big news surrounding this film was the fact that it's star, Massimo Troisi, had died of a severe heart attack the day after filming was completed (Man, that sucks!).

The film tells the fictional story in which the real life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forms a relationship with a simple Italian postman who learns to love poetry and uses it to win the heart of the woman he loves. SIMPLE is the key word here because like Peter Sellers in BEING THERE (1979) and Tom Hanks in FORREST GUMP (1994) before him, Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi) is the simplest of men who lives on a small, forgotten island in Italy whose very existence seems to be no more than living with and looking after his aging father. This is not a man with wisdom, experience or courage to face any real challanges in life or to even try to make his existence known to the most beautiful and tempting woman on the island, Beatrice Russo (played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta - you may recall her in the opening sequence of the disappointing 1999 James Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH). And like previous simple men before him, wisdom and experience is slowly fullfilled, in this case through poetry, metaphors and friendship with a world renowned poet Pablo Neruda (played by French actor Philippe Noiret), who in this film, seems to attract hords of crazed fans a lot more like the Beatles coming to America in 1963 rather than a simple-mannered poet.

And so the shy, simple man wins the heart of the beautiful woman and all is NOT QUITE happily ever after. Things get complicated. Pablo and his wife return to their homeland in Chile and Mario realizes that it's time for him to develop his own voice and his own thinking, particularly during a time in history when communism is at its peak in the 1950s. In an epilogue sequence of the film, we learn that Mario, when scheduled to recite is own composed poem a massive communist gathering in Naples, is killed during violent police reaction. Tragic and ironic, indeed, considering the real life fate of Massimo Troisi himself.

Before revisiting IL POSTINIO for the first time since purchasing the DVD years ago, the most recent film I'd watched was last summer's superhero blockbuster THE AVENGERS. If you'd been in my living room with me, you would have seen an expression on my face that seemed to suggest, "Why the fuck am I watching this crap??" If you'd seen my face last night, you would have witnessed a big smile. I smile because sometimes in the life of cinema, it's the simplest stories, the simplest pleasures and the most simple of beautiful world locales (in glorious Italy!) that will put that wonderful smile on your face. MY face, anyway.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mario Ruoppolo: "Something nice about the island?"
Pablo Neruda: "Yes, one of the wonders of your island."
Mario (speaking into a recorder): "Beatrice Russo."

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