International Cinema Thursday: Pablo Neruda

Brigham Young University has the oldest weekly campus cinema program in the country, beginning its operations in 1968. Every week three films from around the world are shown daily, with the exception of Sunday and Thursday. And hey! Every Tuesday there is a 4:00 PM lecture on one of the films from either resident professors or visiting lecturers. Here at Bare Bones, we love the IC. It's so awesome, like woah. That's why we're dedicating Thursday to International Cinema, giving you information about a film not covered in Tuesday's lecture.

Today let's talk about
Il Postino.

Il Postino is the tale of a lovesick mailman who stumbles into life of exiled poet Pablo Neruda. Born NeftalĂ­ Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, the infamous Chilean communist and poetic Romeo of the 20th century takes the role of mentor and guide to postman Mario; a role that would later prove to be both beneficial and heartbreaking.

Background: Neruda, in addition to being a world-renowned poet from the age of 17, also played the role of statesman. As the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Neruda was acting consul for Chile in Madrid. His experiences in the war indefinitely turned him pro-communist, and he was quite vocal in his support for Pedro Aguirre Cerda, a radical who ran for and won the Chilean presidential office in 1938. What follows is a period of about five years in which Neruda moves about the world, writing and speechifying, while making the acquaintances of Russian assassin Vittorio Vidali, Mexican painter and assumed Communist conspirator David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, among other large and intriguingly unpronounceable names. In 1943, Neruda returned home to Chile and was awarded a position of Senator in the northern part of the country. In 1946, radical presidential candidate Gonzalez Videla jockeyed hard to get Neruda to manage his campaign. Neruda followed through and Videla won the election. However, almost immediately Videla turned on the Communist party, alienating the working class as well as influential party members such as Neruda. In 1948, Neruda gave a speech entitled
Yo Acuso (lol), which condemned Videla outright. Neruda was then officially exiled as the Communist Party was banned from the state, and he took off on a whirlwind tour of the globe, all the while composing and publishing his observations and poems.

Connection: The movie takes place in 1952, the final year of Neruda's exile. He is with his Chilean singer-lover who also helps out in Mario's education, and basically just sings and twirls in Neruda's bedroom the whole movie. While Neruda's stay on the island is fact, the whole of the story is fiction. The film takes firm hold on Neruda's vibrant and well-known love poetry and translates that into a character who plays wise teacher and affable mentor; more like a living embodiment of Neruda's poems than Neruda himself. It's interesting to note that, though the character of Neruda is, in general, one-sided and dimensionless, some of his less easily understandable aspects rub off onto Mario. The whole movie is a well-executed piece of Italian camp, much in the vein of Guiseppe Tornatore. Mario learns from Neruda, Neruda learns from Mario, there is a bit of sad-faced camera mugging, and
cut. However, the ending takes us into a place that is strikingly beautiful and much more bold in its understanding of the effects that poetry, politics, and real life function together. Neruda was an complex and intense man. He ran with a circle of radicals, revolutionaries, and artists, many of whom had blood on their hands. And yet, here he is in the pristine sunlight of Italy, graciously leading a postman to love. It's almost laughable the way the film decides not to deal with Neruda's obvious demons. An American equivalent might be having Hunter S. Thompson coach a pair of young lovers into marriage. However the saving grace for the film comes at the end, which brings us closer to the truth and realization of the man Neruda truly was. I can't help but equate the effect of the film's narrative arc to that of Neruda's poems. We are taken in easily and let go with silence ringing in our ears.

The memory of you emerges from the night around me.
The river mingles its stubborn lament with the sea.

Deserted like the dwarfs at dawn.
It is the hour of departure, oh deserted one!

Cold flower heads are raining over my heart.
Oh pit of debris, fierce cave of the shipwrecked.

In you the wars and the flights accumulated.
From you the wings of the song birds rose.

You swallowed everything, like distance.
Like the sea, like time. In you everything sank!

It was the happy hour of assault and the kiss.
The hour of the spell that blazed like a lighthouse.

Pilot's dread, fury of blind driver,
turbulent drunkenness of love, in you everything sank!

In the childhood of mist my soul, winged and wounded.
Lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

You girdled sorrow, you clung to desire,
sadness stunned you, in you everything sank!

I made the wall of shadow draw back,
beyond desire and act, I walked on.

Oh flesh, my own flesh, woman whom I loved and lost,
I summon you in the moist hour, I raise my song to you.

Like a jar you housed infinite tenderness
and the infinite oblivion shattered you like a jar.

There was the black solitude of the islands,
and there, woman of love, your arms took me in.

There was thirst and hunger, and you were the fruit.
There were grief and ruins, and you were the miracle.

Ah woman, I do not know how you could contain me
in the earth of your soul, in the cross of your arms!

How terrible and brief my desire was to you!
How difficult and drunken, how tensed and avid.

Cemetery of kisses, there is still fire in your tombs,
still the fruited boughs burn, pecked at by birds.

Oh the bitten mouth, oh the kissed limbs,
oh the hungering teeth, oh the entwined bodies.

Oh the mad coupling of hope and force
in which we merged and despaired.

And the tenderness, light as water and as flour.
And the word scarcely begun on the lips.

This was my destiny and in it was my voyage of my longing,
and in it my longing fell, in you everything sank!

Oh pit of debris, everything fell into you,
what sorrow did you not express, in what sorrow are you not drowned!

From billow to billow you still called and sang.
Standing like a sailor in the prow of a vessel.

You still flowered in songs, you still break the currents.
Oh pit of debris, open and bitter well.

Pale blind diver, luckless singer,
lost discoverer, in you everything sank!

It is the hour of departure, the hard cold hour
which the night fastens to all the timetables.

The rustling belt of the sea girdles the shore.
Cold stars heave up, black birds migrate.

Deserted like the wharves at dawn.
Only tremulous shadow twists in my hands.

Oh farther than everything. Oh farther than everything.
It is the hour of departure. Oh abandoned one!

-Pablo Neruda
from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

For more information on International Cinema, check out their website, or this. If you like this feature, let us know. If you don't, let us know.


Kelsie Lynn said...

Cue in the wonderful Bob Hudson. Love this man. BYUs French and Italian Film class is hands down, the best. Studied this one last semester.

There is something about Neruda's unchanging, stubborn and persistent love (does that even make sense?) that is so endearing in the film.

Massimo Troisi also was excellent. Kind of wish the leading lady wasn't so attractive. It just slams in my face how superior beautiful italian women are. I mean seriously.

Also, next week I dearly hope you will review Ping Pong haha.

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