We watched “Bread and Tulips” – “Pane e Tulipane” – an Italian romantic comedy from 2000.

This is a quirky, entertaining film with absurd English subtitles. My knowledge of Italian is just enough past the rudimentary level that I could follow much of what the actors were saying, and I could also see that the subtitles in many cases were only rough approximations of the actual dialogue. And a person who didn’t know Italian at all would notice that some of the translations were so literal as to be comical. Despite that distraction, however, we found this film to be well worth the while.


The story concerns Rosalba Barletta (played by  Licia Maglietta), who is left behind at a rest stop during a vacation with her family. When she telephones her overbearing, unfaithful husband Mimmo (played by Antonio Catania), he barks at her to stay where she is and expresses no regret for the mistake or concern for her wellbeing. Already discontented with her life, Rosalba decides to ignore his instruction and sets off on her own by hitchhiking. She ends up in – where else? – Venice, where she secures room and board in the apartment of Fernando Girasole, a suicidal Icelandic man (played by Bruno Ganz) who works as maitre d’  in a small restaurant.


. Rosalba supports herself in this spontaneous adventure by working for a local florist named Fermo (played by Felice Andreasi)  – an anarchist in the best Italian tradition. Rosalba, who has developed a sweet and mutual romantic interest in Fernando, keeps in touch with her family but does not hurry home. Mimmo runs out of patience with her and hires Cosantino Caponangeli (played by Giuseppe Battiston) to travel to Venice and find her. Cosantino does find Rosalba, but that enterprise doesn’t turn out at all the way Mimmo intended.


Although we found this film engaging over all, we were confused by dream sequences involving Rosalba. Under Silvio Soldini’s direction, the transition from reality to dream is not immediately clear. We would like to have understood better Fernando’s secretive relationship with a young woman and her son. The nature of their connection – not what most people might assume at first – is only superficially explained. There are also several instances in which scenes fade to black in a way that gives the film the feel of a television movie with the commercials edited out.

On the other hand, the director keeps the film visually interesting by avoiding any saccharine image of Venice and presenting instead a glimpse at the city’s life that tourists don’t experience. Licia Maglietta and Bruno Ganz are irresistible if unconventional romantic figures, and the contrast between their thoughtful personalities and the cartoonish Mimmo and Cosantino makes for a pleasant menage.

“Bread and Tulips” was well received when it first appeared. The attention was deserved.

Rosalba gives Cosantino the slip in a scene from "Bread and Tulips"