What makes a beautiful story is often not so much that part of the narrative that is obvious and visible to the eye – like the tip of an iceberg – but rather all those depths that remain unseen, unknown and unsaid. Sometimes the back-story is even more powerful than the story itself and raises the life of a narrative up into the spirit of an art. One of the most moving stories I have ever encountered was that from the Spanish/Italian-language motion picture “Il Postino” (‘The Postman’), based upon the novel “Ardienta pacienca” (‘Burning patience’) about a time when the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was living in political exile on a small Italian island.
Mario is the local postman. He is a simple, shy man and he is in love with Beatrice, the most beautiful woman on the island but he feels unable to approach her. Then the postman meets the poet.
Neruda introduces Mario to the beauty of poetry and metaphor. Through this art – and some borrowed words – Mario eventually wins the heart (and hand in marriage) of his beloved Beatrice. It is a lovely, sentimental film but the sweetness and magic of the script and the magnificently under-stated acting by Massimo Troisi (as Mario) masks a deep and poignant sadness.
Massimo Troisi was seriously ill and in urgent need of a heart transplant. He collapsed three days into making the movie. Faced with a decision to leave the movie and get a heart transplant (to save his life) or to continue filming and complete the project, he chose to finish what he had started. The film was finished, and by all accounts (with which I certainly agree) it is a wonderful story – rich with simple truths and human emotion.
The day after the movie was completed, Massimo Troisi suffered a massive heart attack and died.
When filming was over, the actor Troisi had told the director of the movie: “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?”