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BREAD & TULIPS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz, Giuseppe Battiston, Marina Massironi, Antonio Cantania, Felice Andriasi
Director:  Silvio Soldini
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Three Trailers
Length:  116 Minutes
Release Date:  March 26, 2002

Film ***

Venice, with its beautiful canals and sense of traditions, always seems to bring out the romantic in people…at least in the movies.  In Bread & Tulips, it inspires an under-appreciated housewife to abandon her mundane existence and chase a different kind of life.  Maybe it’s something in the water.

This picture walked away with 8 of Italy’s prestigious Donatello Awards, and has been called that country’s most popular film in a long time.  It’s easy to see why.  It’s a charming, sweetly constructed piece with wonderful characters that invites us to surrender to the magic of Venice, too.

The housewife I mentioned is Rosalba (Maglietta), a lovely 40-ish woman who seems to have lost her identity in her marriage to the neglectful Mimmo (Cantania).  So insignificant to him is she that on a sightseeing tour at the beginning of the film, he doesn’t notice she’s not on the bus as it takes off, leaving her stranded at a diner!

“Wait there,” he gruffly tells her, but wait there, she does not.  On impulse, she hitches a ride to Venice, a city she’s never seen.  Once there, despite being alone and cash poor, Rosalba begins to blossom.  Before long, she makes friends with a sad waiter, Fernando (Ganz), who gives her the use of a spare room in his flat.  There is an instant chemistry between them, though no attraction is implied (until the end).  For Fernando, who has been living with mistakes that cost him his family, he finds a peaceful solace in Rosalba’s presence…at one point, he even climbs down out of a noose in his bedroom to see to her.

Rosalba also makes friends with a vibrant neighbor, Grazia (Massironi), a masseuse with a golden touch, and she gets a job in a flower shop from the delightful Fermo (Andriasi), whose passion for the right flowers for the right occasion sometimes sends intimidated customers away!

But as Rosalba settles down into her new life, Mimmo is less than thrilled about the occasional postcard from her assuring him she’s fine.  Though he’s been cheating on the side, he misses Rosalba’s domestic presence.  “Can you iron some shirts?” he actually asks one of his lovers.  “Are you crazy?” she retorts.  “I’m your mistress, not your wife!”

Too cheap to hire a real detective, he uses Constantino (Battiston), a mild mannered plumber with a passion for mystery novels.  Battiston arrives in Venice with no place to stay and no clue, but a plucky determination to succeed for his new boss.  He brings a great sense of comedy to the picture, particularly with his intrusive cell phone and his accidental wandering into Grazia’s parlor!

This is the kind of film that holds up irresponsibility as a strange kind of virtue, much like Hideous Kinky, but it seems to work because we like the characters, we like the romantic setting, and we tend to believe that in some places, magic can happen.  Rosalba flourishes before our eyes, and we can see the beautiful, passionate woman she is even though her husband never did.  But sooner or later, she’s going to have to make a choice between the life she’s always wanted and the life she actually did carve out for herself, which involves not just her boorish husband, but two sons as well.

I’ll leave it for you to discover her choice…suffice to say, Bread & Tulips isn’t so much about the difficult decisions we make, but the ones we make almost out of instinct…the wonderful, crazy impetuosity that makes us human, and that sometimes opens up new worlds of romance and adventure for us…but then again, maybe that’s only in the movies.  If so, that’s what makes movies like this one so special.

Video ***1/2

This is another quality anamorphic transfer from Columbia Tri Star.  The colors, settings, and details of Venice are beautifully captured in this film and on this DVD.  The palate is rich, full and natural, with no distortion or bleeding to mar the effect, and visual texture is strong throughout.  Occasionally, there is a slight softness to background images (and I emphasize slight), but apart from that, this is a grain free, clean, solid disc presentation.

Audio ***

The film is mostly dialogue oriented, so the 5.1 channel is as serviceable as can be expected.  Apart from some early shots with the tour bus, I don’t think the rear stage or the subwoofer get called into play much.  The music and spoken words always come across cleanly and succinctly, though, with a medium amount of dynamic range.  A perfectly suitable offering.

Features *

The disc includes trailers for this film, The House of Mirth and The Luzhin Defence.

Summary:

Bread & Tulips is a sweet, charming and effervescent look at throwing caution to the wind and chasing your dreams, no matter how big or small.  With a terrific cast, solid script, and the beautiful setting of Venice, this is a film that will warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.