Picks and Pans Review: The Postman (il Posting)

updated 07/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/03/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret

This quiet Italian comedy, set on an island off Naples, is cause for both joy and sadness. The movie itself, in Italian with English subtitles, is a beautiful piece of work. Troisi plays the titular postman, a mild-mannered, generally underemployed fisherman's son hired to deliver mail to the area's most literate citizen: Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (Noiret), by turns self-deprecating and grand, who has come to stay during a period of exile from his own country. Inspired by the poet, Troisi begins whipping up love lyrics to woo the woman of his dreams, a barmaid. The villagers, frightened and awed, listen to his purple images and exclaim, "Metafora!"

This is all very charming, but the movie, directed with unerring simplicity by a Brit, Michael Radford, unexpectedly moves into much richer emotional territory. "Poetry," the postman explains to Noiret in a poignant moment, "doesn't belong to those who write it, but to those who need it."

On to the sadness: The day after The Postman wrapped, Troisi, a Neapolitan comedian who had become one of Italy's most popular performers, died of heart failure at age 41. He was so dedicated to making The Postman, a project he nurtured for several years, that he had put off having a transplant.

You can see that Troisi was handsome in a lean, slightly nerdy way—from certain angles he suggests a lustrous Ralph Nader—but he definitely looks drawn and frail, making his postman all the more poignant. His is a delicate, sweetly funny performance, all mumbles and shy glances. Troisi, at least here, was perfect. This was his only movie to receive a major American release. (PG)

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