March 12, 2002 -- "Bread and Tulips" (AKA Pane e tulipani, or "Hopelessly Romantic") is a funny romantic comedy from Italy. It is loaded with unexpected twists and fantasy sequences. As its name implies, it is hopelessly romantic.
The heroine, Rosalba Barletta (played with a mischievous innocence by Licia Maglietta), gets stranded when her tour bus leaves without her. The rest of her family takes her for granted so much that they don't notice she's missing until the bus is long gone. Hitchhiking to get back to her home on the Adriatic coast, Rosalba decides to detour to Venice, a city she's always wanted to visit. After a few days in Venice, she decides to stay a while, much to the consternation of her short-tempered husband, Mimmo (played by Antonio Catania). Mimmo doesn't really care that his wife is gone until his mistress refuses to iron his shirts. Rosalba's two sons also seem indifferent to her absence.
Rosalba quickly acquires an odd collection of people who become both a circle of friends and a support group. A gruff, but kindly Icelandic waiter Fernando Girasoli (Bruno Ganz of "Wings of Desire") gives her a place to stay, an anarchist Florist, Fermo (Felice Andreasi) gives her a job at his flower shop, and a holistic masseuse, Grazia (Marina Massironi) becomes her best friend. Rosalba is getting along just fine on her own. Her husband is not faring so well. He hires a plumber who fancies mystery stories named Costantino (Giuseppe Battiston) to go to Venice and find his wife. Costantino discovers that being a detective is harder than reading mysteries. He has quite a few adventures.
Romance lies ahead for several characters in the film. One of the film's main themes has to do with the power of friendship and love to breathe new life into people, to lift them up out of the doldrums of their lives and give them new wellsprings of joy and hope for the future. The other theme of the movie is freedom, the power to pull up one's roots and start anew. In America, this is a common theme of the road movie (such as "Thelma and Louise"). In this film, freedom is represented by Rosalba and Fermo, the anarchist, who defends Rosalba's right to cast off her obligations. Rosalba cuts the chain to the anchor of her past and boldly makes a fresh start in Venice.
The lead actors are all very effective in the film. The story is compelling. I found the fantasy sequences a bit jarring, and the film was slow going in places, but overall it is a nice romantic comedy, one of the few that can get away with treating the subject of suicide as a joke. One of the reasons it can get away with this joke is that it is a very positive film in many ways. It argues that just about anybody can be redeemed. This film rates a C+.
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