As we’ve seen throughout the decades, films not in the English language rarely crop up in the Best Picture line-up. In fact, the last time I reviewed one was Cries and Whispers which was nominated during the early 1970s and was the final non-English language film to feature in the category for over twenty years.
That was until the 1996 ceremony when a little film from Italy caught everybody’s eye partly because it was being distributed by the powerful Miramax. Initially known simply by its English name The Postman, Il Postino later took on its original Italian moniker following the release of the atrocious Kevin Costner movie. Set in the early 1950s, Il Postino stars Massimo Troisi as Mario, a bored fisherman who lives on a small Italian island but wants more of a purpose in life. Exiled to the same island, world-renowned poet Pablo Neruda finds himself temporarily stranded for political reasons. These two very different men end up becoming acquaintances when Mario takes on the job of assistant postman with Neruda being his only client. As he begins to see him every day, Mario starts to get wrapped up in Neruda’s poetry and tries to understand it more. Neruda gives him lessons on metaphors and later helps him to try and woo attractive waitress Beatrice. Eventually Mario persuades Beatrice to marry him much to the annoyance of her aunt who feels that he won’t be able to support her niece. After acting as Mario’s best man at his wedding, Neruda gets the call that he’ll be able to return to Chile. Despite leaving the island, Neruda’s views appear to have influenced Mario who now has strong views on the local political scene. However Mario becomes increasingly despondent that Neruda hasn’t been in touch but is later inspired to record sounds of the island for his friend. The final scene of the film sees Neruda return to the island to learn of Mario’s death at a political rally and collect the aforementioned recordings. Rather tragically Troisi, who postponed heart surgery to star in Il Postino, died one day after filming had wrapped.
Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the film, Troisi still left a lasting impression and I feel his performance is one of the standout elements of the film. Troisi has a wide-eyed innocence about him which adds to the role of the initially simple Mario. Additionally Troisi is a brilliant physical actor which helps in the first scenes where Mario tries to woo Beatrice. Troisi is completely believable throughout the film and shares great chemistry with Philippe Noiret as Neruda. Noiret definitely holds his own here as he portrays Neruda as the elder statesman of the film’s central relationship. Noiret conveys how Neruda softens as he spends more time with Mario and to me this friendship is at the core of the film. This is why I felt the film lost a lot of momentum after Neruda returned to Chile and left Mario and Beatrice. Whilst I enjoyed the scenes of Mario’s tape recordings I don’t feel the film quite maintained the level of quality that it had during the Neruda and Mario scenes. The film’s cinematography was sumptuous and really captured the beauty of the two Italian islands on which Il Postino was shot. Meanwhile the brilliant score was rewarded with Il Postino’s only Oscar of the five it was nominated. I really felt as if Troissi’s performance should have won the Best Actor Oscar as to me it is almost faultless. What surprised me was how funny I found the film and it was definitely an enjoyable watch of a movie I’d not seen up to this point. Although it’s odd that a foreign film was nominated to begin I can see why this light, entertaining drama appealed to a mainstream audience.