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Friday Film Review: Pane et Tulipani (Bread and Tulips)

Pane et Tulipani (Bread and Tulips) 2000
Genre: Comedy/Romance/Drama
Grade: Delightful

In looking over my Friday film reviews, I realize I’ve been remise. Of all the ones I’ve done, most have been set and made in the US or are English language films. Don’t think I don’t watch foreign films with subtitles. I do. Let me correct this glaring omission of mine with this darling Italian film.

“Souls, like bodies, can die of hunger: give them bread, but give them roses also.”

Rosalba Barletta (Licia Maglietta) is a somewhat frumpy, slightly clumsy middle aged Italian housewife on vacation with her impatient husband and two teenage sons. When she’s accidentally left behind after a rest stop (none of her family realize she missed the bus), instead of waiting for them to come back and pick her up, she begins to hitchhike her way home. One driver is amazed that she’s never seen Venice, and, on impulse, she heads for this magical city.

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Once she arrives, destiny directs her to a small restaurant where she meets the headwaiter Fernando (Bruno Ganz). Fate again intervenes when she misses the train home and sees a help wanted sign in the window of a florist shop. With a job and a bed in Fernando’s spare room, she explores the freedom of being the woman she wants to be.

She blossoms. She glows. She makes friends with a holistic masseuse who lives in a neighboring apartment. She drinks tea with the florist Fermo (Felice Andreasi) who advises her that “beautiful things take time.” She tries her hand at playing the accordion. She reads about another runaway, “Huck Finn.” She brings Fernando out of his secret depression and together they dance.

(At this point in the review, I’m sure some people are thinking, “how twee.” Rereading my plot description makes me beg you to not dismiss the film as “cute” because it’s better than that.)

But her (cheap) husband, realizing just how much he took her for granted even if he still only misses her for her housewifely skills, employs a plumber turned private detective (he’s read 280+ mystery novels) to track her down. After all, someone’s got to deal with their sullen, sulky sons and his mistress won’t iron his shirts.

Will Rosalba be found? And if she is, will she submit to her emotionally restricting old life? Or now that she’s flown the coop, is she gone for good?

This film makes me regret my misspent youth. No, no, it’s not what you think. I regret not flying to Venice and finding myself a tiny apartment with painted, plaster walls. I wish I had taken the opportunity to wander the streets and canals and over the bridges of Venice. To dance under the street lamps in a small plaza to the music of an accordion. Instead I was a drudge and worked and bought a house and started making mortgage payments.

No, the film and characters are not reality. It and they are all the descriptors I’ve seen in reviews: quirky, funny, romantic, dreaming, lovable and generous. It’s “feel good” but it isn’t “bash you over the head to make sure you get it” feel good. I love that it doesn’t use much of the picture postcard Venice but instead focuses on the quiet side streets. Fernando and Rosalba aren’t beautiful, sleek twenty-somethings – or even well maintained forty-somethings. Rosalba initially shows that it’s not just American woman who should be careful wearing spandex while Fernando is rough around his edges but filled with courtly charm.

There are some serious aspects of the film which viewers will have to decide what they think about. Rosalba’s sons are almost grown but they’re not there yet and some might see her as abandoning them – though at least one seems like he might go with her. There is also something in Fernando’s past that could be upsetting in both content and the way it’s glossed over in the telling. Due to the way I saw the film as more a fantasy than reality, I’m at peace with how I feel about them.

I’ve seen it compared to “Under the Tuscan Sun” but take it from one who found that film a cloying mess, this one is far superior. It’s not just for any woman who’s reached a certain age and who feels neglected by her nearest and dearest. It’s for anyone who’s wondered if it’s too late to reach for something new. It’s for people wanting a film deluged with color, music, gentle smiles and second chances. It’s my first, but not last, foreign language film review. It’s about time.


FTC discloser – I rented this from a movie rental service.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Francesca Bossert
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 04:49:21

    Jayne, I also loved this film. I’m half Italian, so saw it in the original version. If you enjoyed this, I’d like to recommend another wonderful Italian film, “Mediterraneo”. It’s about Italian soldiers stranded on a Greek island during WW2. It’s funny, and sad, and very…Italian!!! Maybe you’ve seen it. If you haven’t, you might give it a go.

  2. Jayne
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 07:14:28

    No, I haven’t seen it but vaguely remember when it was released. A quick check at Neflix shows it’s currently available to be “saved” only. Well, $h!t.

  3. Dani
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 08:18:06

    There was a time in my life where I had to watch a subtitled film at least once a month, Pane e Tulipani was one of those films. I really enjoyed it, so thanks for bringing it back to my memory.

  4. Aoife
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 08:19:39

    I loved this movie. I originally saw it when my husband was out of town on a business trip, and liked it so much that I made him watch it when he got back. And he loved it, too. Even though it’s quirky, sweet, etc., etc., it somehow avoids being saccharine. You feel good at the end of it, instead of feeling as though you’ve overindulged in cotton candy–which is probably how you’d feel if an American movie company had made it. I felt the same way about Mostly Martha. The original, I think German, version was wonderful, but the American remake with Catherine Zeta Jones missed the mark for me.
    Thanks for the review!

  5. Jayne
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 08:45:22

    @Aoife: I enjoyed the original “Martha” too but have avoided the Zeta-Jones version due to the lackluster reviews.

  6. willaful
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 13:28:16

    Sounds a bit like “Baghdad Cafe” as well. Will look for it.

  7. Jayne
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 18:58:01

    I haven’t seen “Baghdad Cafe” but after reading the blurb about it, they do seem very similar.

  8. Likari
    Jan 08, 2010 @ 21:08:49

    This has been in my mental TBS pile for a while now. Darn that it’s not available for streaming at Netflix!

    Baghdad Cafe is one of my favorite quirky films ever. I never saw Jack Palance the same way again, tee hee.

    Speaking of foreign films, I loved Volver with Penelope Cruz. She seemed like a completely different human being in this one than in her English language movies.

  9. Jayne
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 07:30:15


    Speaking of foreign films, I loved Volver with Penelope Cruz. She seemed like a completely different human being in this one than in her English language movies.

    I’ve only ever seen her in “All About My Mother.” Interesting but strange film.

  10. Likari
    Jan 09, 2010 @ 11:50:46

    @Jayne: Volver is strange too, but in a quirky, fun way. I haven’t seen “All About My Mother,” but I’ve heard good things about it. Thanks for the reminder — I’ll check Netflix for it.

  11. Claudia
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 12:09:01

    This is one my film faves. I scored it, Bird People in China, and many others when Tower REcords had a store closing sale.

    I initially bought B&T for Venice pron, but have grown to like it for much more. I’m definitely going to check out the other films mentioned.

  12. Maili
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 12:42:50

    @Claudia: I loved, loved, loved Bird People in China. It’s one of only two Miike films I liked. But my husband found this film a bore. Well, not surprising because he’d expected a typical Miike film (outrageous, like Audition and Visitor Q – or uber violent, like Ichi the Killer and the Yakuza film series). The other Miike film I liked is his children’s film, The Great Yokai War.

    There are so many great foreign films, but allow me to suggest the latest awesome foreign film: Moli̬re. I watched this a few nights ago and loved it! This French film is unexpectedly funny and its ending is poignant. Actor Fabrice Luchini Рwhose role is Jourdian, the one who hired actor/playwright Moli̬re Рtotally stole the show. Think Shakespeare in Love but, while less glossy-looking, better.

  13. Jayne
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 18:47:28


    There are so many great foreign films, but allow me to suggest the latest awesome foreign film: Molière. I watched this a few nights ago and loved it! This French film is unexpectedly funny and its ending is poignant.

    I watched this one a few months ago and loved it too. Luchini is excellent.

  14. Liz
    Jan 17, 2010 @ 21:18:24

    When I first started studying Italian in college, my professor showed us Il Pane e I Tulipani, and I absolutely loved it. I tried to get my parents to watch it with me, but sub-titles don’t do it for them (my mother was extremely upset after i dragged her to see the Passion of the Christ without telling her that it was in Latin and Aramaic).

    Another good one that we watched in that class was Divorzio all’Italia, which was made in 1963–7 years before divorce was legalized in Italy. This, however, is nothing like Il Pane e il Tulipani, although it is funny.

    In another Italian class we watched Mediterraneo, but i did not like that one as much as the other two.

  15. Sarah
    Jan 19, 2010 @ 19:51:13

    I’m 90% sure I saw this a couple years ago. I really liked it, but was mildly weirded out by how much my mom, with whom I saw the movie, LOVED it…

    I’ll have to check it out again, I’ll probably appreciate it much better this time!

    Good selection and a wonderful review!

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