Michael Radford: “Il Postino”

One of the world’s truly great poets, Chilean writer Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), serves as a supporting character in Michael Radford’s 1994 film, Il Postino (The Postman). The main character in this Italian love story is, as the title suggests, the postman, Mario Ruoppolo.

But for me, Neruda – who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971 – was my initial draw to the film. Loving his poetry, I made sure to see the film as soon as it played the Shepherdstown Opera House (one of the best art-house cinemas in the D.C. metro area). That was more than 20 years ago, but the memory still comes back vividly.

I’ve seen the movie again since then, and each time, I am struck not only by Neruda’s poetry but even more so by Mario and Beatrice’s love story. Sweet and life affirming, their romance is the stuff of, well, the movies. Though it’s a fictional tale (with Neruda’s political exile to an Italian island the only factual part of the movie), it nevertheless brings Neruda to life and makes me long to travel to the Mediterranean.

One of the real treats in the film is watching Neruda coach Mario on how to write love poetry for Beatrice, the woman of his dreams. Neruda doesn’t write Il Postino’s poetry for him. Rather, he encourages Mario, mentors him, draws out his poet’s soul and poet’s sensibility.

If you are usually put off by foreign films with subtitles, don’t let that stop you from watching Il Postino. The story, the music, the scenery, the poetry are all spectacular in this gem of a film. After watching the DVD, be sure to check out the original motion picture soundtrack, complete with more than a dozen celebrities reading Neruda’s poetry. You’ll find spoken-word performances by Sting, Samuel L. Jackson, Madonna, and others. The video clip at the top of this post features Sting’s reading of Neruda’s poem “Naked.” (Note: You may need to refresh your screen in order to see the video. If you want a cheat sheet, check out this webpage with the text of all the Neruda poems featured on the soundtrack CD.)

Has Il Postino left you wanting to explore more of Neruda’s poetry? Here are a few recommendations. Poetry Foundation features a number of Neruda’s poems – and if you’re looking to add to your book collection, consider purchasing Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair or The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems, published by City Lights.

While very much a revolutionary, Neruda was perhaps best known for his exquisite love poetry. How perfect, then, that he helps usher Il Postino’s love poetry into the world – and helps him win the heart of Beatrice.

If you want a beautiful and captivating love story, look no further than Il Postino. It’s no wonder it is one of the most popular international films of all time! Massimo Troisi, one of Italy’s most beloved actors, literally dedicated his life to playing Il Postino. He suffered from a life-threatening heart condition throughout the filming of the movie but was so committed to making the story (which he had originally brought to the attention of British director Michael Radford) that he risked his life to do so. Troisi died the day after the filming was completed. Read more in this New York Times article.

Pablo Neruda, true love, the Mediterranean, and an actor’s heartfelt dedication – what more could you ask!

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Watch:You’re in for a viewing treat, as Miramax films features six clips from the movie on its official Il Postino page. Enjoy!