In `Bread,' a put-upon woman finds her way

Movie review

September 28, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Poor Rosalba never realized how miserable she was until she got a taste of how happy she could be.

Italian writer-director Silvio Soldini's Bread & Tulips (Pane e Tulipani) is yet another parable of a middle-aged woman so stifled by life that she can barely function, who starts living life on her own and blossoms in ways she never thought possible. Think Shirley Valentine.

Fortunately, Soldini's consistently understated touch, and a poignant turn by Licia Maglietta as the confused and bemused main character, turns Bread and Tulips into a character study worth studying.

Carelessly abandoned at a highway rest stop (her family doesn't even realize she's not on the bus), Rosalba first calls her husband for help. But, after getting yelled at for what the audience suspects is the umpteenth time in her marriage, she opts instead to hitchhike home.

A series of spontaneous decisions (and we see her spirit awaken each time she's actually allowed to make a decision on her own) lands Rosalba in Venice. There, despite instincts that tell her she's not qualified to be master of her own life, she begins making something of herself. That includes getting a job as a florist's assistant and attracting the eye of the taciturn Fernando (Bruno Ganz), a restaurateur who carries emotional baggage of his own.

Soldini fills Bread and Tulips with simple pleasures - the joy Rosalba experiences in such a simple act as ordering dinner for herself, Fernando's handwritten notes to his new friend.

True, the film meanders a bit. A subplot involving a hapless private eye/plumber sent to find Rosalba doesn't bring much to the party, and the ending feels forced, as though the writers (Soldini and Doriana Leondeff) suddenly ran out of paper.

But who complains, after watching an unobtrusive plant blossom into a beautiful flower, that the process takes too long?

Bread and Tulips

Starring Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz

Directed by Silvio Soldini

Released by First Look Pictures

Rated PG-13 (Adult language)

Running time 115 minutes (In Italian, with English subtitles)

Sun score ***

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