Bread and Tulips
2000, PG-13, 116 min. Directed by Silvio Soldini. Starring Marina Massironi, Giuseppe Battiston, Bruno Ganz, Licia Maglietta.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 5, 2001
Near the beginning of Bread and Tulips, an Italian tour bus pulls away from a rest stop, leaving behind Rosalba (Maglietta), the story's protagonist. From the film's opening shots we have learned that she is an unappreciated housewife, quieted by her husband's indifference and her teenage sons' diminished need for her. We also learn that Rosalba is a klutz, and, tellingly, she drops her wedding ring into the rest-stop toilet and is fishing it out when she misses the bus. Deciding to hitchhike home, she instead follows a whim to continue on to Venice. One night away becomes two nights and then longer, the sad waiter Fernando (Ganz) who feeds her and gives her a room for the night becomes a love interest, the kooky neighbor (Massironi) becomes a good friend, and the anarchist florist gives Rosalba a job. All is going well for Rosalba and her new life until her husband tires of his wrinkled shirts and sends an unemployed plumber fond of mystery novels (Battiston) to find Rosalba in Venice and bring her home. But even here, the tone remains light and upbeat in this multi-award-winning Italian film. As the film's anchor, Maglietta is a revelation. Her depiction of this overlooked middle-age woman strikes a note that is equally sensitive and comic. And Ganz (the angel in Wings of Desire) is an old pro at conveying states of extreme melancholy and sadness. The immediate charms of Bread and Tulips are many, however the film's psychological underpinnings are light as air. Rosalba's husband is indeed a boor and her sons are nearly grown, but is this really all it takes to uproot her life? Coincidences abound. Rosalba discovers an accordion and remembers that she learned to play as a child, and Fernando also remembers that he used to sing on cruise ships. The lack of detail makes our feelings for this middle-age runaway more ambiguous. Before settling on a literal translation from the Italian, the English title of Bread and Tulips was Hopelessly Romantic, which I think provides a better sense of what this movie is about. It's an endearing romantic daydream, but misses the bus where matters of reality are concerned.