"Bread and Tulips"
Every year or so along comes a film from Italy that blows us away. There was "Il Posto" in 1961, "Cinema Paradiso" in 1988, "Il Postino" in 1994, "Life is Beautiful" in 1997, and so many others. This year we have "Bread and Tulips". Perhaps it can be said that no nation's filmmakers have such an eye and taste for the foibles of human behavior and can tell it with such humor and familiarity like the Italians. Rather than argue the point, go take in the pleasures of this delightful piece of work.
The essence of it is what we, in America, characterize as a mid-life crisis. But, where that almost always refers to the male of the species, this is about a woman, a fortiesh, still beautiful wife and mother who takes an adventure that changes her life.
That woman is Rosalba Barletta (Licia Maglietta) who, when we first meet her, is on a traveling vacation with her husband, Mimmo (Antonio Catania), a plumbing contractor with a fair size company, and her two sons. Being a bit of a klutz, she takes a little longer in the toilet during a stop along the way and the bus takes off without her. This means that Mimmo didn't even notice she wasn't in it. This tells you something about him... like he's worse than a klutz.
Insensitive would be putting it mildly, though when he does realize she's not there, he calls her on the cell phone and tells her to stay put so he can rescue her. While waiting for him to return, a passing traveler puts an idea into her head and she decides not to wait for a husband who is too indifferent to notice she wasn't with him. She takes off on her own. Destination: Venice (as in Italy).
She applies a full range of resources, including charm, good looks, mature observation and whatever other skills her years as a housewife and mother have given her, as well as the ones she was born with, to find a job in a flower shop, a room with no rent, and pretty well solves every problem that comes along. She also builds a life and a circle of pretty fine friends, not the least of which is her landlord and benefactor, the soft-spoken undemanding Fernando Girasoli (Bruno Ganz) who has some serious problems of his own, about which he maintains considerable mystery to pique the interest of our heroine.
Husband Mimmo, meanwhile, is frantic with worry and he eventually hires Costantino (Giuseppe Battiston), a plumber-applicant who has read 285 detective novels, to search out his wife. After a series of missteps, Costantino finds his quarry and falls in love with Grazia (Marina Massironi) a holistic masseusse and Rosalba's best friend and neighbor.
Rosalba returns to her husband and son, choosing to remain the dutiful wife and mother, thinking abandonment of her previous life and responsibilities a cop-out. But she doesn't reckon with her feelings for those she left in Venice.
For those with a taste for comedy arising out of character and situation in a completely unforced, unpretentious and naturally motivated framework, this is a film you will not want to miss. Lovers of fine acting should not miss Licia Maglietta's naturalistic performance which will wrap you lovingly around her fingers. The rest of the cast is first rate. Very much my cup of tea.
Silvio Soldini directed from a script written by him and Doriana Leondeff. Bravo!