Given the typical types of themes being explored in contemporary cinema, you’d expect Michael Radford’s “The Postman” to be about a disgruntled, gun-wielding mail-carrier.
Instead, it is about a man who, though unhappy with his life, isn’t about to pick up a pistol to resolve matters. Instead, he picks up a pen.
Set in the early 1950s, “The Postman” tells the story about a resident of a small island off the Italian city of Naples. A misfit landlubber in a village of fishermen, Mario (Massimo Troisi) takes a temporary job as a postman - if for no other reason than it gives him an excuse for not joining his father on the family boat.
But the decision changes things for Mario in ways he could never have expected. The sole stop on his delivery route, you see, is the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret). Exiled from home because of political problems, Neruda has been granted asylum by the Italian government.
And daily he receives news from all over the world - most of it relayed by women.
At first, Mario views Neruda as a child visiting a zoo would an exotic and rare animal. And, at first, Neruda endures Mario’s presence as only such an animal would the affections of a drooling toddler.
Matters change, however, when Mario catches sight of the lovely Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta). Suddenly, Mario is in love and, just as suddenly, he decides he needs some of Neruda’s charisma, some of his women-wooing ways with words.
And so begins an unlikely friendship: Mario, the humble man who strives not only to understand the concept of metaphors but to invent a few by himself, and Neruda, the “poet of the people” who, nevertheless, belongs to an intellectual class that tends to idealize the common people but ignore the common person.
“The Postman,” though, is not what you might think. It doesn’t play only like another variation on “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Halfway through the movie, the Beatrice situation is resolved.
At that point, the film loses a bit of its momentum. But then it picks up again, following Mario’s continuing affection for Neruda as the Chilean hero continues his fight to return home, and long after he actually does so.
In the end, “The Postman” is a bittersweet story that, if it were made in the United States, would undoubtedly end in a more upbeat manner.
But the film is no less moving for its overall somber tone, its poignancy buoyed both by the tender presence of Troisi and the fact that, at age 41, he died from a lifelong heart problem the day after the movie was completed.
A huge star in his native country, Troisi was mourned by thousands of fans at his funeral. Thousands more will take their respective turns - every time they watch the gently nuanced performance he puts on here.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “The Postman” *** Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Michael Radford, Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret and Maria Grazia Cucinotta. Running time:1:34 Rated: PG (In Italian and Spanish with English subtitles.)