As sweet, gentle and warm a movie as you could ask for, "The Postman" smoothly glides by on loads of charm, then whisks the audience away. But the trip is over far too soon, even as the film's resonance lingers.

Easygoing Mario (Massimo Troisi) is a postman in a small Italian village on a remote island off the coast of Naples, circa 1952. And when renowned poet Pablo Neruda (Philippe Noiret) is forced into exile from his native Chile, he is granted sanctuary there by the Italian government.

Naturally, Mario begins delivering Neruda's mail, and after a time, Mario manages to summon the nerve to strike up a conversation with the poet. Eventually they become tentative friends — although Neruda is always more of a mentor.

This is particularly true in the ways of romance. Whereas Neruda has an international reputation as a ladies' man, Pablo cannot bring himself to even speak to the woman he loves from afar. She is fiery Beatrice Russo (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), who works in her family's cafe — and who teases Mario but shows no real interest in him.

With Neruda's help, however, Mario gets the courage to approach her, and the romance that follows is quite tender. More importantly, however, Neruda opens a whole new world to Pablo — a world of words. (Their discussions of poetic metaphors are particularly touching.)

The central element of the film is this relationship between Mario and Pablo, an unlikely friendship between an innocent and a jaded man of the world that changes both men for the better.

The story grows quite deliberately as co-writer/director Michael Radford (an Englishman who also gave us "White Mischief" and "1984") takes his time, building ambience and atmosphere. (He is so effective that you may want to consider packing your bags and heading for Italy.)

And as performed by Troisi and Noiret (and Cucinotta), the central characters are quite rich. Tragically, Troisi, a popular actor in Italy, died at the age of 41 the day after the production finished shooting. Ironically, "The Postman" is the first of his many light comedies to get this kind of exposure abroad.

And if any of them are as winning as this one, wouldn't it be nice if someone decided to release some of his other films in this country?

"The Postman" is rated PG for a couple of mild profanities and some violence.