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'Bread and Tulips'

Life in Venice: 'Bread and Tulips' is a pleasing parade of eccentrics

Friday, September 21, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Now that we have all been violently jolted back into the real world, are we ready for a movie about people who seek happiness in what seems like a fantasy?


Rating: PG-13 for brief language, some sensuality and drug references.

Starring: Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz.

Director: Silvio Soldini.

Critic's call:


Most of "Bread and Tulips," an Italian film now at the Denis and Squirrel Hill theaters, unfolds in Venice -- on the edge of the deep, its antiquity seemingly preserved by the brine of the sea that forms its streets. The place seems enchanted, as if under a spell that keeps it from being inundated but also holds off the pace and values of the modern age.

Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) gets there mostly by accident but partly by design. A middle-aged housewife on vacation with her husband and teen-age sons, she gets left behind at a rest stop when no one notices she hasn't returned to the bus. Is she taken that much for granted by her family? Like the items in her handbag, a portable version of a kitchen junk drawer, her mind is all in a jumble.

Instead of waiting for her exasperated husband (Antonio Catania) to fetch her, she hitches a ride home. But she decides to go on with her ride to its ultimate destination -- Venice, a city she has never visited. "I never get any time at home alone," she says, but maybe a vacation alone is even better.

Whenever it is time to leave, she manages to find a distraction that keeps her in place for another night. Finally, she answers a help-wanted ad at a florist's shop and moves into a room at the home of Fernando (Bruno Ganz), a sad-faced waiter at a restaurant she has frequented. The relationship is strictly proper, even formal, but they perform little kindnesses for each other, usually while the other is absent. He prepares breakfast for her, she cleans the apartment for him.

The movie offers a parade of eccentrics who, for a while at least, seem just a little too contrived. The florist (Felica Andreasi) is an anarchist who yells at customers that displease him. A neighbor, Grazia (Marina Massironi), is a flighty masseuse who calls herself "a holistic beautician." Rosalba's impatient husband is so cheap he hires a plumber who likes detective novels to locate her. The amateur gumshoe (Giuseppe Battiston) turns out to be a plump mama's boy who dons sunglasses and a trenchcoat for his assignment.

Even the lead characters have their quirks. Rosalba can play the accordion. Fernando, whose interior life is studded with disappointment and regret, has an oddly charming habit of using overly precise words in everyday speech. The movie makes some jarring jump cuts and includes some apparent dream sequences that catch us off guard at first.

But as "Bread and Tulips" continues, we realize that none of this is so unusual in the world it creates. Late in the film, director and co-screenwriter Silvio Soldini reminds us of the existence that Rosalba threw over -- conventional and neat, comfortable and stifling, among a family in which no one says anything truly meaningful to each other.

In Venice, people communicate. They help each other, even when they don't know each other. They provide solace for each other's setbacks. They read books and recite stories. They play the accordion and yell at customers. They fulfill themselves without ignoring others.

They reject the world and its empty temptations for the myriad possibilities of the spirit. "Bread and Tulips" upholds that sturdy movie tradition of showing us life as we wish it could be -- life in Venice, or whatever we may call it.

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