Netflixable? A Chilean lad looks for love lessons from Neruda and his “Burning Patience”

“Burning Patience” is a Chilean romance that comes to your Netflix queue saddled with some baggage.

You have to ignore the fact that this is the third film based on the very same source material. The Chilean screenwriter and novelist Antonio Skármeta first scripted a Chilean film titled “Ardiente paciencia” (“Burning Patience”) in 1983, and turned it into a novel in 1985.

You have to get around memories of Michael Radford’s Oscar-winning film 1994 “Il Postino/The Postman,” about a simple Italian postman learning how to express the poetic language of love from Chile’s greatest poet, Pablo Neruda. You must erase any thought of how the story was reset on a sleepy sundrenched Italian island, Neruda during his exile years. And you have to forget French actor Philippe Noiret’s charismatic, bemused and blustery turn as the poet in that film, and the sad, simple turn that earned Massimo Troisi a posthumous Oscar nomination — he died before “The Postman” came out.

That’s a lot to forget. But if you can, you can take this latest version, a lightly charming romance, on its own terms.

Here, as in the novel, it’s a Chilean story with Chilean settings and that famed politician, diplomat and poet — and hated communist in some quarters — living on Isla Negra. Pablo Neruda (Claudio Arrendondo) might have Nobel Prize thoughts in the back of his mind (he’d win two years after this film’s summer of ’69), but mainly he’s hoping to spend his last years writing. Instead, he’s being recruited, possibly even drafted to run for president of Chile. And he’s being distracted by this kid, Mario (Andrew Bargsted), a fisherman who becomes a postman with but one patron to deliver to. This lad wants to woo the fair newcomer in town, Beatriz (Vivianne Dietz) with his words. He could use some help.

This version of Mario is just out of his teens, not “simple,” merely under-schooled and unworldly, telling his father he has no interest in carrying on the family fishing tradition. Whatever he plans to do with his life, first he needs a job. The post office is hiring.

“Are you a mailman?”

“No. But I have a bicycle.”

That’s how he lands the gig, a postman with but one special client to deliver to, a great poet he’s always interrupting in thought as he gazes at the sea or writing at his desk.

That new waitress turns Mario’s head every time he passes her at the hostel and cantina she and her mother (Paola Giannini) have taken over. He stares at lovely Beatriz, and Beatriz stares back at lovely Mario. Too bad her mother isn’t having it.

Her efforts to keep them apart inspire him to write Beatriz love poems. But he has the cheek to plagiarize Neruda. This is Chile, chico. EVERYbody knows Neruda. By HEART.

That’s a cute conceit, the way so many people know their poet/activist. He drew crowds in the hundreds of thousands to his readings, which doubled as political events. And Beatriz knows his words when Mario’s passing them off as his in his letters.

The actor playing Neruda looks a bit like the famous poet, and if you watch this in Spanish (with subtitles) and not in dubbed English, Arrendondo does a good job of getting across the florid phrasing of a great poet, if not all of his charisma.

But I dare say even if you’ve never read the book or seen “Il Postino” you’ll realize that there needs to be a lot more comical exasperation over the constant interruptions. Noiret gave Neruda a cuddly, irritable edge, the first person Mario must win over before even thinking about wooing Beatriz.

That’s missing here, and sorely missed.

But letting the love story between two poets take center stage kind of works. She catches him in his lies (plagiarism) and they exchange notes, with a young nun passing them back and forth as Beatriz poetically puts Mario down and challenges him to write and create and express himself like a real poet.

“Your smile spreads like a butterfly on your face,” is a good start.

The funniest stuff here is the mother who just isn’t having this. In a movie about young love, poetry and a great poet’s intervention, it’s the disapproving mom who gets the best lines.

“All men who first touch you with their words will go much further with their hands later!”

“Rivers carry stones. Words carry PREGNANCIES!”

Our beguiling leads ensure that we’ll maintain interest as they move beyond the nun-o-grams and start passing messages along on the dedication line of the local radio station. But will her mother finally figure out a way to keep her treasure from marrying a postman?

Director Rodrigo Sepúlveda (“My Tender Matador”) and screenwriter Guillermo Calderón separate their film from the earlier and better British-directed Italian version. But they never improve on it, and their movie seems almost self-consciously aware of that.

“Burning Patience” is not nearly as winning and bowl-you-over romantic as “Il Postino,” but it works well enough at times and it finishes wonderfully. The acting is generally good, with Giannini the stand-out. If our Neruda had been more bluff and blustery and larger than life, this could have really been something special.

Rating: TV-14, suggestions of sex

Cast: Andrew Bargsted, Vivianne Dietz, Claudio Arredondo, Paola Giannini, Rodolfo Polgar, Trinidad González, Pablo Macaya and Amalia Kassai.

Credits: Directed by Rodrigo Sepúlveda, scripted by Guillermo Calderón, based on the novel by Antonio Skármeta. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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