Bread and Tulips
dir. Silvio Soldini
Opens Fri Aug 17 at Seven Gables.

Sweet, dopey, predictable, and still charming, Bread and Tulips is the story of a housewife discovering why freedom is so much more romantic than life at home. It's an Italian film by Silvio Soldini, and the title in its original language--Pane e Tulipani--is much more linguistically suggestive of the ordinary connections between the homely and the sublime.

Saddled with a loud, bombastic, plumbing-fixture-selling husband with a hair-trigger temper and two disaffected teenage boys, Rosalba (the utterly lovely Licia Maglietta) seems all but eclipsed by her family. When, on a summer vacation in the south of Italy, her tour bus leaves a rest stop without her, she seizes the opportunity to head home to Pescara for some quality time alone. Instead, she ends up in Venice: prime romantic real estate, yes, but also a superior place to lose yourself.

Which she promptly does after falling in with an eccentric crowd that includes an aging anarchist florist (who accuses a customer wanting irises of being pro-monarchy), a wacky masseuse straight out of Ally McBeal, and Fernando Girasole, a sad, suicidal maitre d'. Fernando, played by Bruno Ganz (Wings of Desire, The Last Days of Chez Nous), is Icelandic, and seems to have learned Italian by reading Ludovico Ariosto. Accordingly, he's given to such archaic phrasing as "Your husband is not a connoisseur of your soul."

You know that Rosalba and Fernando are going to fall for each other a few hours before they do, and yet it takes a long, long time to get there. Bread and Tulips gets draggy somewhere in the middle; Rosalba's gradual blossoming isn't much of a surprise, since her decency and potential are the first things you notice, and her beauty strains against her unsexy tourist outfit. Despite Soldini's decision not to linger on the circumstances of her home life, her desertion feels familiar and unmysterious, a story we've seen before. But none of this dims the pleasure of watching Rosalba play Italian love songs on the accordion, her face slack with pleasure, a forgotten joy discovered anew.

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