One person’s sunny romp is another’s big yawn, and while I can clearly see what some otherwise rational critics have responded to in the new Italian romantic comedy, Bread and Tulips, some cog in my emotional machinery prevents me from doing the same. There’s a certain kind of whimsical uplift which sets my teeth on edge — and though Bread takes a while to show its hand, once it finally does its sinking into sentimental goo is rapid and merciless. It’s what people, with unintentional misanthropy, refer to as a “crowd-pleaser.”
Things start off well enough, even in a promising manner. Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) is on a bus holiday with her cranky husband and indifferent teenage son when she finds herself abandoned in a restroom. Partly because she’s pissed off that her family would take off without her and partly because she’s ready for adventure, she decides to hitchhike home rather than try to catch up with the departed bus. One of her rides, a young man who is drifting along in a near coma of coolness, offers to take her to Venice and, following another whim, she goes.
Once she’s in Venice — lovely, frame-filling Venice — she becomes involved with a waiter named Fernando (Bruno Ganz), an odd duck who keeps a noose hanging in his bedroom and who speaks an in an ostentatiously florid manner, as though he had learned Italian by reading Dante (supposedly he’s Icelandic). Romance is slow to bloom between the two, mainly because Fernando, when not spouting poetically, seems borderline autistic. Meanwhile Rosalba’s hubby has enlisted a comically inept private detective (Giuseppe Battiston), an obese mama’s boy who’s actually a plumber and, um, who becomes involved with one of Rosalba’s new Venetian friends, a spaced-out masseuse.
Throw in the sententious old coot who runs the flower shop where our heroine gets a job and soon the screen is crawling with colorful characters, each craftily designed by writer-director Silvio Soldini to solicit our fond indulgence. Except for Rosalba’s husband, who’s a real bastard.
There are two things which almost balance out the movie’s ghastly attempts to charm, namely the clever use of dream sequences which are indistinguishable from the rest of the film, and the presence of Ganz who can be counted on to bring an antic, saturnine presence to the proceedings. But though he could pass for a shy serial killer at the film’s beginning, by the end the script has tamed him and made him another of its jolly crew of lovable eccentrics. Oh, phooey.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected].