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Bread and Tulips

Coming of age for the second time

A woman doesn't need to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown to shake up her life and do something drastic--like leave her husband and kids with piles of dirty laundry and a feeble excuse for her absence. Sometimes all it takes is years of slow, steady banality to inspire a housewife to hit the road. At least that's what gets Rosalba Barletta (Licia Maglietta) to ditch her "family nucleus," as one character calls it, after they accidentally leave her behind during a very day-glo, touristy vacation, and hitchhike to Venice for a day. What starts off as a quick detour turns into a months-long stay as Rosalba realizes (or accepts) that her husband doesn't care for her, and her sons are too apathetic and teenage to really give a damn.

In Venice, Rosalba gets a job at a flower shop owned by eccentric old anarchist who terrorizes annoying customers, quickly moves into an apartment with a quiet, kind--and secretly suicidal-restaurant manager named Fernando (Bruno Ganz, who deserves much more of a fleshed-out character than he gets here), picks up her old hobby of playing the accordion, and bonds with their flaky, holistic beautician neighbor Grazia, who talks at lightning speed and spends the majority of her scenes flitting around in a kimono with a glittery Bindi stuck on her forehead.

It doesn't take long for Rosalba's philandering hubby to get tired of his messy house and his microwaved dinners, so he hires a porcine plumber (Giuseppe Battiston) with a passion for detective novels to track down his wife. Combing the alleyways of Venice in a tan trench coat.

It's these characters, drifting around Rosalba like satellites as she soars into her own, that makes Silvio Soldini's Bread and Tulips (winner of six David di Donatello awards) stand out in the overcrowded realm of whimsical Euro-romances. That doesn't mean that the film is free of some of the trappings of the genreŚcutesy dialogue, implausible coincidences, hackneyed symbolism, and pseudo-surreal dream sequences (Rosalba has these throughout the film: In one, her mother in law brings her Brussels sprouts and cooks them with a hair dryer). Even so, Fernando's acts of chivalry had more than one woman cooing in the audience, and it's hard not to feel inspired by all the freedom and independence (and feelings for Fernando) that are getting Rosalba's skin and eyes all aglow.

Soldini isn't shy with cinematic details, and his accents add to the characterizations, and more subtly, to the story. Rosalba reads "Huckleberry Finn" before bed - typically a coming-of-age era novel, at least in America, and Fernando's speech is so flowery and antiquated that he says things like "my phoenix has risen from its ashes" after dancing with Rosalba for the first time. Luckily, the director manages to keep Bread and Tulips from slipping into schmaltz at every turn, and what emerges is a subdued, inspired look at a middle-age woman blossoming into youth.


Bread and Tulips
rated PG-13
1 hour 54 minutes

Felice Andreasi
Vitalba Andrea
Tatiana Lepore
Ludovico Paladin
Licia Maglietta