Postman, The (Il Postino) (Italy/United Kingdom, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Postman, an Italian film from British director Michael Radford (White Mischief, The Elixir), is a charming piece of cinema that takes several comfortable formulas and expands upon them in ingenious and emotionally-satisfying ways. There's a little of everything here: poetry, politics, humor, love, and heartbreak. Best of all, these elements flow together seamlessly in a production characterized by solid acting, balanced pacing, and eye-catching cinematography.

Mario (played by the late Italian writer/director/actor Massimo Troisi) is a postman in a fishing village on a small island off the coast of Italy. Arriving there in 1953 is famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret), exiled from his native country for espousing communist doctrine. Mario is curious about this new resident who, despite his advancing age, has a seemingly magical power over women. Eventually, after delivering Neruda's mail for a while, he gets up the courage to engage the poet in a conversation about writing. This begins an unusual collaboration, with Mario providing a sounding board for Neruda's ideas and Neruda teaching Mario about poetry and its relationship to life.

Although all of The Postman is wonderfully engaging, the last act lends added resonance to everything that has come before. The final thirty minutes change this film from a good little movie to a great little movie. Radford has a subtle touch that draws out the best from characters and situations. One could argue that all films seek to manipulate; in the case of The Postman, it is done with the utmost skill. This picture is affecting because, instead of relying on Hollywood's sledgehammer tactics of toying with an audience, it plumbs a wellspring of deeply-felt, honest emotion.

In the final performance of a great career, Massimo Troisi (who died at the age of 41, shortly after completing this picture) gives us a memorable character. Hesitant, shy, and uncultured, Mario has the heart of a poet, but little talent with words. In this post-Forrest Gump era, it would be easy to compare him to the Tom Hanks character, but Mario is really a more complex individual. He occasionally makes some startlingly insightful observations, such as "the whole world is a metaphor for something," often without realizing how thought-provoking his comments are. The Postman is about Mario, and Troisi imbues him with a captivating humanity.

Philipe Noiret's Pablo Neruda is the perfect foil for Mario -- a kindred spirit with all the experience and talent that the postman lacks. Noiret plays Neruda as part father-figure, part dreamer, and part realist. When Mario asks him how to become a poet, the older man responds by advising his "pupil" to take a walk along the island's shoreline and see what images come to mind. After Mario has fallen for the stunning Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), Neruda tells him about the many women of that name to have inspired poets.

For two hours, it's possible to fall under The Postman's spell and be completely enchanted. There is more vitality and genuine passion here than in any ten big-budget extravaganzas. This movie about words and images will delight not just because it entertains, but because it takes the motion picture experience one step further, and fulfills. Look for The Postman this summer. It will be one of the year's more rewarding theatrical experiences.

Postman, The (Il Postino) (Italy/United Kingdom, 1995)

Ranked #9 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1995
Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Italian
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1