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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Feb. 2003  update Jan 2016

Massimo Troisi  (1953-1994)

film poster for il PostinoI suppose it is futile—but understandable—to speculate how the career might have turned out of one who died much too young. The Neapolitan papers this week spent some time doing that, true, but, generally, just paid heartfelt tribute to Massimo Troisi, from San Giorgio (near Naples), who died in 1994 but who, this week, would have turned 50. 

Troisi made his first film, in 1981, Ricomincio da tre (a pun on the expression Ricomincio da zero—I'm starting over—(thus, roughly, I'm Starting Over Somewhere in the Middle), and his last film, shortly before his death, Il Postino (The Postman—probably his best-known film abroad—photo, left). Perhaps only Roberto Benigni, among recent Italian comics, strikes you the same way Troisi does—as having that quality of comic genius worthy of mentioning in the same breath as the great Totò. (Benigni and Troisi appear in one film together, in 1984: Non ci resta che piangere (There's nothing left to do but cry) where they are transported in time back to the 1400s and even meet Leonardo da Vinci and give him some pointers.) 

Troisi already generates the same type of "Do you remember that episode…?" –stories that characterize conversations about all great comics. (Do you remember that scene of Laurel and Hardy moving the piano up the long flight of steps? Of course you do.) There are scores of those about Totò and, by now, a lot of them about Troisi. Yes, I remember that scene where Troisi plays the wrong Mary (!), not the mother of Jesus, but another Mary in "a city of Galilee named Nazareth" whose daily routine gets interrupted by an inept Herald Angel who keeps barging onto the stage with "Hearken! Mary…the Lord is with thee…thou shalt conceive…" Troisi spends the skit trying to convince the angel that he has come to the wrong house and the wrong Mary. Joseph's wife is over on the next street. There is not the least sense of irreverence in the performance, either, and I am sure the Pope thinks it's a riot! 

Troisi's language was that of Naples, with virtually no attempt to modify his difficult native dialect to a more standard Italian for the benefit of those who might have difficulty understanding him—audiences in northern Italy, for example. With Totò, Troisi is a living language lesson and one more reason why almost all Italians now like to think they speak a little Neapolitan.


update - added 19 Jan 2016

Yesterday Naples paid tribute to Massimo Troisi by naming some stairs after him! The stairs are an outdoor stairway that played prominently in a film called Scusate il ritardo [Excuse the Delay] from 1983. The original scene in the film involves him and his co-star Lello Arena discussing life and love in the driving rain on an anonymous stairway in the Chiaia section of Naples. The film is brilliant, the scene is brilliant, and the stairs are now less anonymous because they have been dedicated to one of the best-loved Italian comics of the 20th century. The mayor was there. The late comic's sister was there, visibly moved by the dedication. It was nice. He deserved it. He was an enormously likable and modest person with a great talent for making people laugh. One in a million.


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