Pane et Tulipani (Bread and Tulips) 2000
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.
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.