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'Bread, My Sweet, The'

Friday, January 18, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Pittsburgh playwright and first-time movie director Melissa Martin must be a quick study. The opening minutes of her film, "The Bread, My Sweet," develop a visual rhythm that sets a tone and a sense of place for this sturdy, sentimental tribute to a way of life that is getting swallowed up by modern times.

 
 
'THE BREAD, MY SWEET'

RATING: Unrated; contains some crude language and a brief sex scene

STARRING: Scott Baio, Kristin Minter, Rosemary Prinz

DIRECTOR: Melissa Martin

Critic's call:

   
 

"The Bread, My Sweet," now at the Regent Square Theater, was inspired by a beloved Italian couple who lived above the Strip District bakery Enrico Biscotti, which is run by Martin's husband, Larry Lagatutta, and serves as a key set in the movie, shot in Pittsburgh during the summer of 2000.

The film is a love letter not just to them but also to the Strip, to the authentic foods that are made and sold there and to the people who preserve the traditions and skills that go into it.

We see it all in those opening shots: a statue of a saint, a drum beat, hands kneading dough in a bowl, an old man pounding a walker on the floor, a coffee machine, the dough, the bread ...

Dominic (Scott Baio) is torn between two worlds. He operates the bakery with his brothers, the womanizing Eddie (Billy Mott) and the mentally challenged Pino (Shuler Hensley). Dominic wakes up early each morning to bake bread and biscotti, then dons a suit and heads to a corporate office where he makes deals to merge companies and then fires suddenly redundant employees. Everyone tells him two jobs are too much, but he won't listen.

When a customer insists that the bakery must use a mix to make its biscotti, the offended brothers offer her a taste that dissolves her protests. At the office, Dominic is similarly aghast at the unhealthy mass-produced junk food his colleagues gulp down.

Pino delights in making huge breakfast pies for Bella (Rosemary Prinz), the little old lady upstairs, while Dominic trades insults with her grouchy husband, Massimo (John Seitz). But Pino doesn't know why she isn't eating as much as she once did. Dominic does -- Bella is ill.

She has always doted on her daughter, Lucca (Kristin Minter), who left home to join the Peace Corps. When Lucca shows up unexpectedly for Christmas, Dominic fashions an outrageous plan to fulfill Bella's dreams for her daughter. But will Lucca play along?

Dominic represents assimilation: living in the suburbs, dispensing with most of the ethnic and religious customs, aspiring to success in the cutthroat business world. But the baker in him longs for the world of Bella and Massimo, who make their own wine and grow vegetables in a rooftop garden providing a stunning view of the city that also feels like a little bit of Italy transported to Pittsburgh.

Martin, who wrote the screenplay (it appears to be based to some degree on her husband's life), conquers the story's inherent, gently manipulative sentimentality with emotional veracity, nicely conveyed by her actors.

Baio, who has a tendency to come on too strong, utilizes it subtly here. Dominic is, after all, a corporate shark. But he is also a caring man, and that side of him comes through as well. Minter doesn't arrive until midway through the movie, but she lets us see the bond between Lucca and Bella, as well as the independence that drove her away.

The one jarring note comes from Seitz, whose Massimo comes off as an anachronistic stereotype, the blustery old man who yells at everyone but has a good heart and utters sentences such as, "Me no like you." The low-budget film also picks up a bit too much ambient background noise in the outdoor scenes.

Fortunately, "The Bread, My Sweet" also picks up the romanticized ambience of the Strip, and everything it represents to Martin.

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