As I have extended the 2013 reading list, I’ve tried to balance works such as histories and science studies with my penchant for literature.
cover, Il Postino by Antonio Skarmeta (courtesy, Google Books)
But you know what? I still like literature best. And here’s a reason why.
I have just finished Antonio Skarmeta‘s book El Cartero de Neruda (originally called Ardientia Paciencia) on which the wonderful 1994 Italian film, Il Postino was based (though Skarmeta’s work is based on his own screenplay, which uses that original title mentioned above) – yes, a tad confusing, I know. In English we know Skarmeta’s work as The Postman (not to be confused with David Brin’s post-apocalypse sci-fi novel turned into the problematic Kevin Costner film – and yes, I know that’s more confusion).
Skarmeta’s novel tells the story of a shy young man who accidentally becomes friends with the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, wins the girl of his dreams, tries to support and protect both Neruda and his friends in their loyalty to Salvador Allende, and in the end is swept away, one of the desaparecidos of the government of Augusto Pinochet and Operation Condor.
The novel (really a novella given that the work is only 112 pages in English) has some of the same poetic qualities as Neruda’s poetry: a spareness that belies a cosmic vision of love in its physical, emotional, political, and spiritual characters. The shy teen Mario Jiménez, who takes the job of postman in the tiny fishing village of Isla Negra just off the Chilean coast and whose only real delivery customer is Neruda, is transformed by the poet – through the power of poetry, especially through the power of poetry’s most important device, the metaphor – into a lover (Mario’s Beatriz is named as a nod to another great poet), a husband, a father (whose son is an accident prone money pit), a provider (despite the complaints of his mother-in-law, Mario somehow finds money – or money finds him), a thinking, acting citizen. As possibly was the case with even Neruda himself, sadly, that last transformation leads to his victimization by the brutal forces of the Pinochet regime.
Skarmeta follows, with his own twists, the Hemingway dictum: an author can leave any part of a story out as long as the author knows that he/she has done so. Part of the magic of El Cartero de Neruda is that, like Neruda’s poetry, what is unsaid can leave, in the words of another great poet, “thoughts that lie too deep for tears.” We don’t completely understand the why of all that Mario thinks or does or the why of all that Neruda thinks or does. What we do understand is that both are inspired – whether by love, art, or politics – to think and do.
Mario’s ultimate act of thinking and doing is to write and submit a poem to a contest run by a Chilean magazine – a poem that, in the epilogue to his story, we learn was forgotten by the contest’s judge. Mario never knows this, for Pinochet’s secret police take him away before he learns his work’s fate. Like so much of life, it seems, Mario’s greatest moment is simply the thinking and doing itself – outcome is not the only, or even the chief, measure of human worth.
In a recent conversation with a writer friend of mine, he asked me why literary fiction (he was referring to a piece of my writing, but the same question could be asked of many literary fiction types) sometimes doesn’t seem to be anything but thinking and doing. I’ll now point him to El Cartero de Neruda – which explains that to think and to do is what makes us human – and that that is enough.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
For the opera based on the film, see Il Postino (opera).
Il Postino: The Postman (Italian: Il postino) is a 1994 Italian film directed by Michael Radford and Massimo Troisi. The film was originally released in the US as The Postman, a straight translation of the Italian title.
The film tells a fictional story in which the real life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forms a relationship with a simple postman who learns to love poetry. It stars Philippe Noiret, Massimo Troisi, and Maria Grazia Cucinotta. The screenplay was adapted by Anna Pavignano, Michael Radford, Furio Scarpelli, Giacomo Scarpelli, and Massimo Troisi from the novel Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta. In 1983, Skármeta himself wrote and directed the film Ardiente paciencia (English translation: "Burning Patience"), which he later adapted to the novel of the same name in 1985.
Writer/star Massimo Troisi postponed heart surgery so that he could complete the film. The day after filming was completed, he suffered a fatal heart attack.
Set in the year 1950, Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet, is exiled to a small island in Italy for political reasons. His wife accompanies him. On the island, a local, Mario Ruoppolo, is dissatisfied with being a fisherman, like his father. Mario looks for other work and is hired as a temporary postman, with Neruda as his only customer. He uses his bicycle to hand deliver Neruda's mail (the island has no cars). Though poorly educated, the postman eventually befriends Neruda and becomes further influenced by Neruda's political views and poetry.
Meanwhile, Mario falls in love with a beautiful young lady, Beatrice Russo, who works in her aunt's village cafe. He is shy with her, but he enlists Neruda's help. Mario constantly asks Neruda if particular metaphors that he uses are suitable for his poems. Mario is able to better communicate with Beatrice and express his love through poetry. Despite the aunt's strong disapproval of Mario, because of his sensual poetry (which turns out to be largely stolen from Neruda), Beatrice responds favourably.
The two are married. The priest refuses to allow Mario to have Neruda as his best man because of politics; however, this is soon resolved. This was because Di Cosimo was the politician in office in the area with the Christian Democrats. At the wedding, Neruda receives the welcome news that there is no longer a Chilean warrant for his arrest so he returns to Chile.
Mario writes a letter but never gets any reply. Several months later, he receives a letter from Neruda. However, to his dismay, it is actually from his secretary, asking Mario to send Neruda's old belongings back to Chile. While there Mario comes upon an old phonograph and listens to the song he first heard when he met Neruda. Moved, he makes recordings of all the beautiful sounds on the island onto a cassette including the heartbeat of his soon-to-be-born child.
Several years later, Neruda finds Beatrice and her son, Pablito (named in honour of Neruda) in the same old inn. From her, he discovers that Mario had been killed before their son was born. Mario had been scheduled to recite a poem he had composed at a large communist gathering in Naples; the demonstration was violently broken up by the police. She gives Neruda recordings of village sounds that Mario had made for him. The film ends with Neruda walking in the beach he used to talk with Mario, showing at the same time the communist gathering in which Mario was killed.
Whereas the novel and the 1985 film were set in Chile, with Neruda living in his home at Isla Negra around 1970, Il Postino: The Postman moves the setting to Italy in about 1950. The film is set and was filmed on the island of Procida, gulf of Naples and partially on the island of Salina, of the volcanic Aeolian Island chain off the north coast of Sicily.
Corricella is the setting for some of the waterfront scenes in the movie.
Further information: Il Postino (soundtrack)
In 1994 to promote the film, Miramax published The Postman (Il Postino): Music From The Miramax Motion Picture, which besides the film's score, composed by Luis Enríquez Bacalov, includes Neruda's poems recited by many celebrities. There are a total of 31 tracks.
In 2002 CAM Original Soundtracks released a 17 track version of the score (CAM 509536-2) which was mastered in Dolby Surround.
The album won the Academy Award for Best Original Dramatic Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
For the 2010 opera based on the film see Daniel Catan.
The film was very well received. Rotten Tomatoes reports that 93% of the critics liked the film, based on 26 reviews. It received a score of 81 on Metacritic, indicating "Universal Acclaim", based on 13 critic reviews.
At the 68th Academy Awards (1995), Il Postino: The Postman received five nominations and one Academy Award.
In the categories for Best Actor and Best Writing, Troisi received posthumous nominations.