20 years on – Remembering Massimo Troisi…the sweetest postman that ever lived

Embrace the poetic nature of existence, and allow it to guide us on the unpredictable journey of life and love.

2014… 2014…why is this year of ANY relevance? Then it struck me. It was the 4 that stood out. 2014 marked 20 years after the release of one of the most romantic and melancholic films ever made – Il Postino, and even more importantly, 20 years after the untimely death of its star – Massimo Troisi.

Of course, in 1994, I was but a mere child. It was only in the 2000’s, that I discovered this gem of an Italian language film (beautifully directed by Michael Radford) and also through it, the romantic poetry of Pablo Neruda. (SPOILER ALERT) The film tells the story of Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) self-exiled on a tiny island in Italy and the subsequent friendship that develops with a simpleton postman, Mario (Massimo Troisi). Mario is at once intrigued at how Neruda’s sensual couplets can reduce women from 16-60 into lustful hysteria, and so takes upon himself the arduous task of cycling each morning to deliver bags of Neruda’s fan mail.

Through the friendship, he becomes enamoured with Neruda and discovers the poetry of life that lay dormant in him all these years, leading him to his true love Beatrice Russo (Maria Grazia Cucinotta).

The film is magnificent on so many levels. Not least, because of the exquisitely photographed locations on the tiny island of Salino, Italy, but also because of Massimo Troisi. Despite, sharing screen space with another heavyweight actor – Noiret, Massimo really steals the show. His character as a simpleton, who aspires to be much more than a fisherman like his father, is played with such genuine sensitivity that it tugs the heartstrings. Each gesture is so well timed that one simply cannot fall in love with Massimo and melt away at the innocence of his face that radiates in every shot.

I was left deeply affected by the film. It is one of very few humanistic stories that has touched my soul and personally influenced my life, through its very philosophical themes of recognising poetry in life and the journey of finding one’s raison d’etre. But, it was only after researching the film further, did I realise that the film was actually magnified in melancholy, because of its underlying real life tragedy.

After delivering the performance of his life, and touching millions of hearts, Massimo had died of a heart attack, 12 days after shooting for the film had completed. Like a true artist, he had worked tirelessly, and in excruciating pain, delaying a vital heart transplant (which he had expected his whole life, as a result of quadruple bypass at 19), just so that he could complete the film. Sadly, he never got to see the legion of accolades, globally, that were bestowed upon him after his passing away.

Massimo had been afraid of the heart surgery. In conversation with Michael Radford, after the shoot was complete, he had stated,

“You know, I don’t really want this new heart. You know why? Because the heart is the centre of emotion, and an actor is a man of emotion. Who knows what kind of an actor I’m going to be with someone else’s heart beating inside me?”

After reading these tragic words, I finally understood why Massimo had been able to play Mario, the postman poet character so convincingly. Massimo and Mario actually shared the same simple poetic heart, soaked in sensitivity – they were the same person. Perhaps that’s the reason I stop myself from watching Massimo in other films as some other character. I simply wish to cling onto to the belief that Massimo was born to only be Mario the postman.

Through Il Postino, we are reminded to be sensitive to our surroundings and love, to follow our hearts desires and be alive. Just like Massimo, who remains very much alive in our hearts as Il Postino, Mario.