The Common Good
January-February 1996

Silence Within Us

by Rose Marie Berger | January-February 1996

The architecture of life in two foreign films.

The architecture of life in two foreign films.
Look here, look for me here,
for here is where I shall come, saying nothing...
here I shall be both lost and found-
here I shall be perhaps both stone and silence.
-Pablo Neruda

It is the architecture that first seduces the eyes in Moufida Tlatli's Tunisian film debut Silences of the Palace: keyhole arches, wide cool balconies, penitential doorways, viscous light that bathes the intricate tile mosaics. These same beautiful walls, however, form the hudud (the frontier or boundary) of the harem in which 25-year-old Alia Adulti (Ghalia Lacroix) was raised.

Adulti has returned to the palace where she spent her childhood and adolescence to attend the funeral of Prince Sid'Ali, former Tunisian governor and, perhaps, her father. At the bedside of Khalti Hadda (Najia Ouerghi), the aging blind woman who was head servant in Adulti's youth, the memories and stories of life within the walls return: the companionship of women, the seclusion, the dancing and lute, the rape and incest.

Silences of the Palace (Les Silences du Palais), in French with English subtitles, is an intricately sad work of art, examining the silences we carry within us, even when the exterior architecture has fallen away.

North from Tunis, across the liquid diamond of the Mediterranean, we come to the Isle of Capri, off the coast of Italy. It is here that Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda and his wife, Matilde Urrutia, spent their exile in the early 1950s, following Neruda's famous "I Accuse!" speech before the Chilean Senate.

Michael Radford's Italian-language film (with English subtitles) The Postman (Il Postino) is a poignant adaptation of Antonio Skarmeta's novella Burning Patience. This film is inspired by Neruda's friendship with the man who brought the daily mail during these years.

Here, it is not the architecture of the poor, isolated village, Calla di Soto, that captivates, but the graceful blue-bottomed fishing boats, dizzying cliffs, the church bell of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the wind-sculpted faces of the people. Into the island's silence, and into postman Mario Ruoppolo's (Massimo Troisi) fettered knowledge, come poetry and metaphors, prompting Ruoppolo to ask Neruda (Philippe Noiret), "Is the whole world a metaphor for something else?"

This love story goes beyond the celluloid to the actors themselves. Massimo Troisi wanted so passionately to finish this film that he postponed a heart operation to finish the work. He died 12 hours after its completion, at the age of 41. The film is dedicated to him and his delicate gift of shifting from comedy to tragedy with a twist of his tapered hands.

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