I’ve watched Pane e Tulipani ( Bread and Tulips ) 100 times and I’m not exaggerating – the number may actually be higher. I’m thinking about calling director Silvio Soldini to ask him if I can do commentary on a director’s cut – I love this movie and I’ve given it a lot of thought. It’s practically perfect, and not because there are no mistakes, but because there is nothing in it that I’d change.
1) It looks right. From the middle class suburban apartments in Pescara to the decaying palazzos in Venezia, this is what Italy looks like to me. Soldini didn’t didn’t try to make it seem any better or any worse, he just made it real, in fact, they must have used real apartments, a real restaurant, and a real pensione, because I don’t think a sound stage could have looked so true. All of the dwellings in the movies have the furniture, the chotchkes, and the debris that one finds in places that are really lived in.
She’d arrived in Venice with very little, so Rosalba (played by Licia Maglietta) wore as many outfits as she could with the few things that she had and the things she picks up in Venice are the things that someone like her might have picked up at the outdoor market in her neighborhood on a Saturday morning.
2) It’s funny. As I watched the movie – for the 100th time – I laughed at all the same stuff – for the 100th time. When Rosalba’s been left behind at the rest stop and she gets yelled at I want to jump into the movie and high five her. “Why is it always you who does this stuff? Did you fall asleep in the john?” her husband asks her. “Do me a favor, stay there and don’t move”. So what does she do? She sticks out her thumb and leaves the rest stop behind, only calling her husband when she’s checked into a pensione in Venice.
When Tino (Guiseppe Battiston) is leaving for Venice for his new “plumbing job” and has to tear himself away from his overly involved mother he has to remind her that he’s not going on a camping trip (she’s packed him about 3 days of food). ” Did you remember your asthma medicine? Did you put your money in your socks?” she asks him, sobbing. “Why do you have to go to Venice?”
He hasn’t told her that a crazy, jealous husband has hired him to find his wife and drag her back to Pescara so he explains, “Venice has huge plumbing problems – they’ve even hired an engineer from Holland.”
I am for the 100th time getting such a kick out of Rosalba and her new friend Grazia (played by Marina Massironi) gleefully spy on Fernando (the amazing Bruno Ganz),Fermo,her new boss (Felice Andreasi) ordering people out of his flower shop for buying the wrong flowers for the wrong occasion, and her husband (Antonio Catania) wandering around aimlessly in her absence, trying to get anyone, including his mistress to iron a few shirts for him or make him something to eat. “What, are you crazy? I’m your lover, not your wife”, he’s reminded.
3) It’s romantic. I love watching movies about young people falling in love – I do it all the time. But it means so much more to me in Pane e Tulipani because the couple is my age and because they aren’t Hollywood glamorous. Licia Maglietta is gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but she was 47 when she made the movie and she’s not trying to look anything different. Fernando, the man she meets on her adventure is extremely ordinary looking and much older – she fell for his kindness, his romantic gestures, and the way he looked at her, not for his looks.
Pane e Tulipani is even better than people who like it give it credit. It’s a little miracle of a movie and Silvio Soldini has done something really special here. If you’ve watched it before give it another chance – as Fermo said, “Le cose belle sono lente.Bisogna imparare ad aspettare”. Beautiful things are slow – you have to learn to wait.”