Gilbert is a lonely postman whose only friends are the people on his route. There's Mr. Rostall, a blind widower and retired poet and professor. There's Aurore, who gets postcards from her boyfriend Eric as he travels around the world. And then there is Eloise, a lovely florist in the neighborhood who gives Gilbert a flower for his jacket every day, along with a lesson in the symbolism in each bloom and a hopeful sign of her affections.
When Aurore suddenly stops receiving postcards from Eric, Gilbert secretly begins to recreate them, recruiting Mr. Rostalle, who believes he's helping Gilbert express his growing feelings for Eloise. But the effort has unintended consequences, and Gilbert must deal with his fears and inability to express himself with Eloise.
Written and directed by Helen Alexis Yonov, this winsome romantic short delights with its unabashed sincerity and sweetness, weaving together an ambitious set of narrative elements into an unexpectedly wise lesson in courage, love and self-belief.
The film takes its time in developing its cast of characters and the self-closed yet sunlit corner of the world they live in. The visuals are a mix of California and Paris, with radiant colors and cinematography and a vintage-chic sense of place and design. Within this charming, cheerful world, Gilbert goes about his delivery route, the plot ambling at his sturdy, unassuming pace. We meet all the inhabitants of his community, each with their own stories.
The writing has many elements to juggle and it takes time to establish them, but it excels in exploring these pockets of stories beyond Gilbert, whether evoking Eric and Aurore's exotic, long-distance romance in a sweet little narrative detour or Mr. Rostalle's moving remembrances of the wife he long loved and then lost. These all surround Gilbert in a tapestry of the different stages and types of love, but it also makes clear that he has no romance to call his own.
The film features a performance by actor James Michael Tyler, known widely to audiences for his role as Gunther on "Friends" and who recently passed away from cancer. Inhibited characters can be difficult to portray onscreen because their fears keep them from action, but Tyler beautifully portrays Gilbert's deep well of sensitivity underneath his surface reticence and shyness. His interactions with his friends on his route reveal warmth and solicitousness, as well as his hunger for affection and connection.
This loneliness likely propels him to intervene when Aurore stops receiving postcards from Eric, and Gilbert decides to compose some postcards in Eric's absence, making them seem as if they're coming from Eric. It's a sweet gesture, but it has unexpected consequences -- all of which force Gilbert to come face-to-face with his true feelings, but also the deep sense of inadequacy that keeps him from acting on them.
It would be easy to sum up the lesson of "The Gesture and the Word" as paying attention to the little things in life. But the real wisdom in the story -- delivered with a lightness that belies its emotional richness, with a heart-warming ending all the more poignant for Tyler's passing -- is its observations on how love requires personal courage. It often forces us to grow in ways that will expand us, if only we summon the bravery to confront our fears. In doing so, love truly blooms, based on a foundation of our own self-worth.