The Postman

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The Postman

a review by Per Malloch

I quite liked Per's review of this terribly boring film and reprint it here with his permission. -Ari.

Il Postino: Doltish Postman turned Communist reads Stolen Poetry to win Island Bumpkin's Heart

Il Postino -- The Postman -- is an award-winning Italian film about a dim postman who receives the aid of a famous poet in his efforts to snare the most attractive woman on his island. This much I knew beforehand. How appropriate that I ran across an outdoor showing of the film purely by accident. There, I was ignored by a marginally attractive woman. If only such magical moments of romance and mystery had existed in the film.

The promised famous poet in the film is Pablo Neruda, who is staying on an island in Italy after having been exiled from his native Cuba for writing pro-Communist poetry. There he befriends the local postman, Mario Ruopollo, who pesters him for autographs, asks him illiterate questions about poetry -- "What is a metaphor?" -- and finally asks him to assist him in winning the heart of a local barmaid. The postman recites some of Neruda's poems to this wench, who capitulates with pathetic quickness; they have a Catholic wedding. Neruda then leaves, and there follows an inexplicably long sequence where it gradually occurs to Ruopollo that he is not coming back. Years later, Neruda returns to discover that Ruopollo was killed at a Communist rally, which he had attended under the influence of Neruda's poems and the local Communist postmaster. The film ends with presumably fabricated footage of the rally.

The topics of the film are that of Neruda's works; love, poetry and Communism. Each theme is treated with the same crude sentimentality. The principal women in the film (Neruda's and Ruopollo's wives) have virtually no lines; they smile when poetry is spoken at them, submit to sexual advances, and clean house. Ruopollo declares his love after having spoken five words to his future wife, while the embraces of Neruda's wife seem no different from the embraces he receives from female fans at the train station when he first arrives. Just as in Neruda's poems, in Il Postino love is a mixture of well proportioned genitalia and eloquent words.

"Sublime ideas sound silly when repeated," Neruda remarks during one of his discourses on the theory of poetry. To judge from these speeches, the scriptwriter drew the inference that silly ideas sound sublime when repeated. "If poetry is explained it becomes banal," he explains elsewhere, revealing one of the tricks of the trade. True poets, not to say scriptwriters, know quite well that their work is already banal; fine language becomes the fine art of concealing this fact. Towards the end of the film, the utility of Neruda's teachings becomes apparent. Trying to quiet Ruopollo during one of his fits of depression, his wife says, "I don't think you're a bad poet." He responds: "What? Have I ever written any poems?"

Ruopollo, taking his cues from the "poet of the people," proudly announces he's voting Communist, although at the rate at which he reads a letter in the beginning of the film, it would take him his entire life just to get through the Communist Manifesto. His sound grasp of Marxian principles is demonstrated in a scene where he berates a well-to-do man for buying fish at a discount, explaining that the fishermen are being "exploited." Later, he confronts a politician who has broken a campaign promise after being elected; apparently it is his first confrontation with democracy. Finally, he is beaten to death at a Communist rally; a pity, since he would have read his first poem there.

The aching pointlessness of the film is felt most strongly in the last half hour. Neruda has left, so the slightly interesting conversations between him and Ruopollo no longer exist. Instead, we see Roupollo moping about the island, reminiscing about Neruda's visit, losing money on his business (at least he isn't "exploiting" anyone!) and in general despondently Waiting for Pablo. When Neruda finally returns, the director cruelly forces the audience to watch his reminiscing about Ruopollo. The conclusion is inescapable; whether or not he ever hung around a Famous Poet, no one gives a damn about someone in a backward fishing village in Italy, not even the poet himself, who promised to write to the postman and never did.

By the end of the movie, I was begging it to end not only for aesthetic reasons but because I was freezing my ass off sitting on a lawn at Barnard. These feelings of physical and spiritual discomfort mixed to produce -- what shall I call it? A feeling, an experience, something like the antithesis of sex.

In this case, the postman most certainly did not deliver.

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