Bread & Tulips (Pane E Tulipani) Movie Review
A dissatisfied Italian housewife finds unexpected freedom when she's left behind at a tour bus stop while on a Greek vacation with her burdensome family in the charming grown-up romance "Bread and Tulips."
Decked out in full middle-aged tourist regalia -- sun visor, fanny pack, leggings, running shoes, windbreaker tied at her waist -- Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) has a private little pout outside the gift shop after a cell phone reprimand from her temperamental husband (who didn't notice she wasn't on the bus). Then she shakes it off and decides not to catch up to the family, darn it, but to hitchhike straight home.
After a couple rides from oddball strangers, however, Rosalba follows a whim. She continues right past her hometown to get dropped off in Venice instead. She's never been there and she's on vacation, after all. Her adventure finds her meeting Fernando (Bruno Ganz), a kindly, aging (and suicidal) waiter from a failing restaurant who offers to put her up in a spare room of his apartment. Two days later she takes a job at a florist's shop in a quiet, cobblestone corner of the city and begins a new life, wondering how long it will be before her conscience calls her home.
Maglietta gives a wonderful performance as a vibrant woman emerging from a cocoon of suburban malaise. She delineates Rosalba's nagging maternal instincts while embracing her surprising newfound contentment as she becomes girlfriends with a massage therapist neighbor and begins a tentative flirtation with the sad, compassionate, poetic and sometimes mysterious Fernando.
Meanwhile, her husband and teenage sons are having a hard time fending for themselves. Scenes here and there show a kitchen table buried in empty soda cans and bags of chips. Finally fed up with his wife's caprice after his mistress refuses to iron shirts for him, Rosalba's mister hires an bumbling amateur detective (Giuseppe Battiston) to hunt her down, adding unexpected and lightly comical complications to our heroine's simple but idyllic liberty.
Co-writer (with Doriana Leondeff) and director Silvio Soldini skillfully lends emotional significance to what could have been a trifle of a story. But he does so without weighing the film down in the kind of moist sentimentality that frequently accompanies the last act of such life-examining allegories. "Bread and Tulips" is uncomplicated escapism for astute adults.