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The Poetical in the film "Il Postino" 3/3
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-10-12 10:06:20
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As long as the two men are together the friendship thrives. Eventually Neruda, having obtained a reprieve, returns to Chile with his wife. Despite his promise to stay in touch, he is never heard from again. His poet's career reaches the pinnacle of fame when he obtains the Nobel Prize for literature. Historically this happens in 1971 but in the movie it appears to be ten years earlier. This is not important if we keep in mind that the story is fiction. In any case, Mario continues to follow Neruda's career by reading the newspapers' accounts.

At one point Neruda, in a newspaper interview which Mario later puts in a scrap book, talks about the beauty of the island he was exiled upon but mentions absolutely nothing of his friend Mario. Later a letter arrives but it is from Neruda's secretary that lists certain items his boss had left behind and requests that they be returned. The disappointment of Mario is palpable. Here we have an example of instrumental language devoid of the poetical, as a mere practical means of communication to reach a particular goal.

Nonetheless, Mario never loses the respect and the affection for his friend and proceeds to record the sounds of his beautiful island to be sent to Neruda as a poem and a gift of sort. Indeed, Mario is a poet by nature. He may never write the kind of poetry Neruda is capable of, but he can grasp the poetical and the transcendent within nature. At some deep level he hardly needed the lessons of Neruda about poetry for he is just as much a poet as Neruda.

While Beatrice is expecting their first son, he joins some of his friends for a trip to Naples to attend a public gathering of the Communist Party. He is scheduled to recite a poem he has written in honor of his friend Neruda. A charge of the police provokes a stampede, Mario is caught in its midst as he proceeds to the podium to recite the poem and is killed. The movie then forwards some seven years (we know this from the age of Pablito, Mario's son) to focus on Neruda's return to Procida. Upon entering the house he notices Pablito playing and then learns the sad events of Mario's death from Beatrice. In this sequence Neruda does not utter a word but his face says plenty.

The last poignant scene of the movie which is perhaps its most poetical is that of a Neruda walking all alone on the beach as he reflects on the last confusing minutes of Mario's life. Through Neruda's imagination we view Mario as he loses the paper on which the poem is written and then loses his life as the paper continues to fly about in the turmoil. At that point Mario himself becomes the poem resurrected in the memory of Neruda. This is the same beach where he had conversed with Mario on poetry.

The sadness of his face tells it all: the recriminations, the regrets, perhaps even the guilt of having forgotten the simple friendship of a simple particular fisherman while going around advocating publicly the universal abstract rights of the poor and the forgotten. He probably intuits at some level that he is indirectly responsible for Mario's death. He is the one who had told him that he should do more than just suffer patiently, that he should protest injustice and oppression. In so doing that Mario gets killed. The perceptive viewer cannot but reflect upon the ineluctable fact that indeed the death of Mario was necessary for Mario's life to become a message to Neruda. A message that has to do with forgiveness and simple goodness that eventually triumphs even over death.

But there is more. This particular meditation on the movie leads us to certain conclusions. In the first place, returning to the exchange of views on the nature of poetry between Paz and Neruda, we are left with a perplexity: did Paz have a valid point when he pointed out that the danger of writing didactic poetry, wherein the ideological and the rational takes precedence over the imaginative and the mythological, is that one will eventually become the dupe of the ideologues who will manipulate and subsume poetry to rationalism?

Once that happens the poet may still be a good poet but he/she runs the risk of losing his/her humanity and integrity. Did that happen to Neruda to a certain extend? For, knowing full well that a good poet like Pasternak and a good writer like Solzhenitsyn had been vilified by a system that insisted on judging poetry by ideological standards, he went to Moscow to accept the Lenin poetry prize. Which begs the question: how many particular friendships were betrayed in the pursuit of the universal leading to a meteoric literary career? Was poetry herself betrayed?

The other observation is this paradox: that while Neruda is the real character in the movie, the one who appears more real at the end is the fictional character Mario. This often happens in literature: the Divine Comedy although fictitious, may at a poetical level be more real and revealing of the human condition than, say, Caesar's Gallic Wars. That is so because the movie itself functions at the level of the poetical as a myth of sort. Its controlling image is the god of messages Hermes. It is uncanny how often life ends up imitating art. Jung had it right: man makes symbols but symbols govern man.

Massimo Troisi who was a very promising young actor and director in Italy died soon after the completion of the movie. Like Mario, he never saw the fruits of his poetry but here too his death has not been in vain. In some way he is resurrected in that wonderful poetical story of Il Postino every time we see the film. The film, quite appropriately ends with a poem about poetry by Neruda and a dedication to Massimo Troisi. The two men wrote different kinds of lyrical poetry but I would suggest that the one who was more faithful to Vico's poetic wisdom was Massimo Troisi who kept the mythos and the logos in a more harmonious relationship.


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Eva2007-10-12 15:50:02
I love, love, love this movie! It's is a true work of art and Massimo Troisi was amazing in it. Your article reminds me I want to see it again.

Emanuel Paparella2007-10-12 17:11:10
Indeed Eva, the movie is much like a great epic poem, every time one views it one discovers something else beyond mere factual rational empirical knowledge. I must have seen it a dozen times and it never ceases to give more with each viewing. I suppose that is what all great art does.

A footnote is in order: it is rare, but sometimes the movie is better than the novel from which it was obtained. Most operas are better than the novels from which their librettos were derived because they involve via music and singing and staging a wider gamut of the human elements than literature by itself can supply. By the way, the original novel from which Il Postino was derived is titled Ardiente Paciencia and its Chilean author is Antonio Skarmita.

Lapo2011-09-21 17:57:20
Good Job ! I really liked the movie and your essay.

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