Il Postino (The Postman)

Il Postino Poster

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.

~ Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

On a small, nearly isolated Italian island, a fisherman, Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi), lives with his father. A rather simple-minded young man, Mario hates being out on boats all day and complains of the moisture, so his father tells him to get a job. One night, at the movies, he sees a newsreel covering the arrival of famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) to Italy.  A communist, Neruda has been exiled by political opponents and has come to live on Mario’s little island.

Mario sees a sign on the door of the post office advertising for a postman with a bicycle to deliver mail. The next morning Mario applies and finds out that it is a part time job to deliver Neruda’s mail.  As he does his job, he begins a dialogue with the poet.  At first, he is looking for an autograph, so he can show he is a friend of great Neruda and get girls, but as he reads the poetry, he discovers that it appeals to him in some way that he can’t explain.  The poetry stirs in him both a desire for love and a desire to fight for the cause of the oppressed.  Wanting to write his own poetry, he asks Pablo how to go about it and that leads to an explanation of metaphors.

When Mario falls in love with Beatrice (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), the niece of the local inn owner, he begs Pablo to help him win her by writing some poetry for him, but the poet refuses, instead giving Mario a beautiful book of paper to begin writing his own poetry. He brings Mario to the inn and signs the book in front of Beatrice.  Using Pablo’s poetry, Mario begins to woo her with great success, so much so that Beatrice’s aunt becomes upset, complaining about the evil metaphors in the poetry.

Massimo Troisi was a beloved Italian actor long before Il Postino, mostly for his wonderful comedic roles.  When he found the book Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta, he bound himself to the project, committing to not only star in the film, but to help write the screenplay, along with director Michael Radford, Anna Pavignano, Furio Scarpelli, and Giacomo Scarpelli, even though he was having serious heart problems.  He put off surgery in order to the film and dies shortly after it was completed.

The film is beautifully photographed, full of light and color, with the sea surrounding the island always prominent. There is a great deal of Neruda’s poetry included in the movie and it certainly enhances the beauty.  The film’s Academy Award winning score, composed by Luis Enríquez Bacalov, is beautiful and gives the film a heightened sense of the love not only between Mario and Beatrice, but the brotherly love between Mario and Pablo.

Besides the win for film score, it was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screeplay Adaptation. The soundtrack features many well known actors reading Neruda’s poetry to the film score.  Some of the readers include Julia Roberts, who backed the project, Glenn Close, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, Madonna, and Wesley Snipes, among others.

This is an excellent film. It is beautiful, full of poetry, music, and love.  In Italian, with subtitles in English, it runs an hour and forty-eight minutes.

Reality Bites

realitybites

This 1994 movie, written by Helen Childress and directed by Ben Stiller, touches on a number of issues for young people, including attachment to brands, rejection of previous generations, employment difficulties, and romantic angst. Highly successful at the time, much of the movie can be said to be just as valid for today’s young adults as it was when released.

Four college graduates are living together in Houston. Class valedictorian Lelaina Pierce (Wynona Ryder) aspires to become a documentary filmmaker and she uses her friends as willing actors throughout the movie. She has a deep, simmering attachment to musician Troy Dyer (Ethan Hawke) who can’t seem to hold a job, pay the rent, or do his laundry, but plays in a band at night.  Vickie (Janeane Garofalo) works at GAP, where she aspires to become a manager, but in the meantime she works her way through a series of meaningless one night stands.  The fourth person in the trio is Sammy Gray (Steve Zahn), a closet gay.

Laney works at a Houston TV station as a production assistant for an obnoxious morning show host who hates her, but she is videotaping her friends all the time, hoping to make her own documentary on Gen X. While driving with Vickie in the used BMW that her parents gave her, along with a gas card, for graduation, she flips her cigarette out the window and it lands in the car of Michael Grates (Ben Stiller), a young executive for an MTV-like television station called “In Your Face” and he swerves, hitting the BMW.  They begin dating, causing Troy to become jealous.  A former fling of Vickie’s confesses that he has AIDS, so she goes in to get tested.

When she gets upset at how her boss is treating her, she writes obscene prompt cards for him and gets fired. Out on the street looking for a job, she discovers just how difficult it is and goes from TV stations to newspapers to radio stations and can’t get hired for anything.  She goes through a severe depression.  She calls psychics on a 900 number and runs up a phenomenal phone bill, then uses her gas card to survive by hustling for cash at gas stations,   However, Michael proposes her show to his executives and it looks like she’s going to make some real money.  Unfortunately, they completely hack up her film and she storms out of the screening.

Reality Bites aspires to be more than just a teen comedy and in some respects it succeeds. There’s something about idealists sucking down brand name products that’s both funny and sad in that they simply don’t get what they’re doing.  The movie has some really fine moments of both friendship and romance tucked into the basic survival of these four.  When Sammy comes out and confesses to his mother, it is both funny and poignant.  Troy’s posing hides a deeper fear about himself and Laney’s denial of her obvious love for him creates a lot of real teen angst.

The problems in the film are not with Stiller’s direction, but rather his decision to have himself written into the movie. I didn’t believe for one second that this smart, hip, funny girl Laney would go for him and that makes all of the scenes he’s in feel forced, unnatural.  He also forces the humor in his scenes and it brings the whole movie down.  I thought that besides his own role, he did a very good job directing.  All people when they go through this age feel that they know everything about the world and usually end up learning a lot in the process and Childress and Stiller have captured this extremely well.

Outside of Stiller’s performance, all of the acting is very good. Ryder gives us a compelling character, well-developed, and very well acted.  Hawke is appropriately moody and defiant.  Garafolo and Zahn are both terrific, giving us completely believable characters.

The photography feels dark and moody to me, giving the teen angst more feeling. It was well edited, but could have been shorter.  The soundtrack of vibrant young music from the mid 1990’s is very good, very well selected, and appropriately used in the movie.

Altogether, it’s not a bad film, even if it does carry the bravado of thinking it is much more perceptive than it is in reality.