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The Poetical in the film "Il Postino" 2/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-10 10:13:48
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Neruda in turn would retort that it is exactly due to a powerful passion for justice that a poet will break out in song and poetry and lyrically express those feelings. The Marxian ideology embedded in the poetry dedicated to the Chilean miners (the Cantos Generales), was there not as a propaganda tool of the Soviet Union but as expression of authentic anger at social injustice as well as com-passion for the victims of that injustice; to give a voice to those who had no voice.

However, the subsequent events of Neruda's literary career would give the lie to that kind of explanation. After all, Neruda traveled to the Soviet Union to accept the Lenin Price (1971) after his fellow-poet Pasternak was denied a visa by the same Soviet authorities to receive his Nobel Prize (1958). That should have alerted Neruda to the fact that poetry in the Soviet Union was a propaganda tool.

The two stars of Il Postino are Mario Ruopolo, a young fisherman on the island of Procida, off Naples, who temporarily assumes the role of postman; and the Chilean poet Neruda who is in exile on the island. The characters are respectively played by the late Massimo Troisi (who died soon after completing the movie) and by the French actor Philippe Noiret.

Some critics have pointed out that the real protagonist of the film is the friendship (what C.S. Lewis calls filia) that develops between those two men. But the theme of authentic friendship is only part of the whole. As already pointed out in the introductory section of this essay, the movie has to do with messages and messengers: those who send messages, those who deliver messages, those who receive messages as well as with signified and signifiers in those written messages.

The unifying image in this powerful story that has all the signs of a myth is that of the god Hermes. Mario, Hermes-like, is the one who delivers the messages. Neruda, at first treats him as such: as a mere deliverer of messages; thanks him and tips him. As he gets to know him better he makes Mario privy to some of those messages; even asks him to open and read some of them. Moreover, he has him record his greetings on a tape-recorder to be sent to his admirers in Chile. Here the oral and written tradition blur into each other. In the oral tradition, the ears and not the eyes have predominance. That is why Homer is blind; but he is not deaf. Mario is slowly becoming part of the messages. He asks Neruda to autograph for him one of his books. With those gestures of mutual trust, a beautiful friendship between the two men begins to blossom.

The friendship has nothing of the condescending about it. Mario senses its sincerity and slowly the awe he feels for such an enlightened man becomes faithful affection. Mario is very intrigued by somebody who makes a living by writing words on a piece of paper and urges Neruda to teach him how to be a poet. A brief lesson on metaphors follows. One day on the beach after Neruda has just recited one of his poems, Mario tells Neruda that as he listened he felt "like a ship being tossed at sea." Neruda, to the astonishment of Mario, points out that he has just formed a metaphor. Then it is Neruda's turn to be surprised by Mario who in a matter of fact way asks him a profound question; namely this: are you saying that everything in the universe is a metaphor for something else that we cannot see?

Here Mario has come close to defining the true function of the poetical: that of expressing, or better, that of hinting at the ineffable, the spiritual, the longing for the transcendent and for a better world. That function can be expressed in many ways, not just words on paper. The poetical imbues the universe and God more than a chess-player, may well be a dancing poet. Mario is now confident that he too can become a poet and tries his hand at writing metaphors on a notebook Neruda has gifted him with. Later on he begins to recite those metaphors to the local girl, Beatrice the "locandiera," the inn keeper, who lives with an aunt. Her name, as Neruda points out to Mario is quite significant for all Beatrices give rise to longings. He eventually marries her after persuading both the suspicious aunt that he is a good man, and the local priest who objects to a Communist (Neruda) being best man at a Catholic wedding.

The viewers has to keep in mind that the movie is also a message for them and as such needs to be properly interpreted via "hermeneutics;" by which the viewer (or reader as the case may be) become part of the message; until that happens there is no message and there is no literature proper existentially connected to life. The viewers in fact need to remember at all times why Neruda is in exile. The exile was caused directly by the messages (the content or logos) that the poet has sent via his poetry (the form or mythos). They were not well received by some politicians in his country: specifically by those in power, responsible for much social injustice. He has dared give the poor a powerful voice. Which it to say, he has been exiled for being a "bad" poet, a poet who as those people see it, does not have at heart the common good of the polis; for common good read "the interests of the rich and powerful." He should have relegated himself to be an entertaining buffoon at wedding banquets; then nobody would have bothered him.

In other words, Neruda is a postman who has dared deliver to the Chilean government some unwelcome letters, letters that tell the truth on the sad plight of the coal miners in Chile. As it was, rather than take the message at heart, the politicians play the oldest Machiavellian political stratagem in town: they discredit the message by branding the messenger mad, and banishing him from the polis. Paradoxically, when Plato went to Syracuse to try out the theoretical political schemes of The Republic, not as a mythmaker but as a rationalist assessing what is good and what is bad poetry, he also gets banished from the polis...Food for thought.

Also paradoxical, as well as providential, is the fact that the exile makes Neruda better noticed and more popular abroad. He begins receiving many admiring letters from Chile and elsewhere; he is now being considered as a candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Mario, is almost envious of all those letters, mostly from ladies, but as Neruda's postman, in his own small way, makes it all possible by dutifully delivering the messages. But from time to time he adds his own messages, not necessarily in writing but through the genuine exchanges facilitated by a sincere "filia" (friendship) and punctuated by mutual respect.

PART THREE (Coming Fri)

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Emanuel Paparella2007-10-10 11:33:35

A footnote by the author
The subject matter of the film Il Postino examined and analyzed above is indeed poetry. That may or may not make the analysis itself poetical. As a matter of fact the form is not poetical and the analysis is more properly philosophical. It is inspired by the philosophy of history of Giambattista Vico. As a philosopher Vico was concerned with the examination of the nature and the abuses of reason leading to modern rationalism. He was convinced that his philosophy, as all respectable philosophy, could greatly help to get to the truth of the matter. Significantly, Vico did not call his great opus,(briefly examined in the pages of this magazine) either A New Poetry, or A New Philosophy, but A New Science.

For a more thorough investigation and commentary on what Vico meant by "a new science" of humanity the reader may wish to open to the link below:


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