Netflix Update No. 41: “Bread and Tulips”

December 21, 2010


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"


5 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 41: “Bread and Tulips””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I kept waiting for a connection with “Bread and Roses” to appear – not only the concerts of the 1970s, but the women’s labor strikes of the early 1900s (especially the textile workers’ strike in 1912) and the organizing song that was so much a part of the movement.

    I’ve not listened to the song since writing about the movement some months back, but a replay just now was enough to bring back the chills. “Hearts starve as well as bodies,” sang the women. “Give us bread, but give us roses.” “Bread and Tulips” is just so evocative of that earlier movement – I can’t help but wonder if a connection existed.

    If you’d like to listen, one of the best versions of the song with good historical footage can be found here.

    And a Merry Christmas, to you and yours!

    • charlespaolino Says:

      There’s no connection that I can discern. Coincidentally, the Spanish film “Bread and Roses” also came out in 2000.

      I finished my last class today, and I begin full-time work on a more regular schedule on Jan. 4, so I should be doing a lot more reading and writing of blogs from here on. I have to catch up on yours.

      Have a fine Christmas.

  2. shoreacres Says:

    I finally went looking and discovered the title of Ken Loach’s “Bread and Roses” film was meant to evoke those earlier strikes. There’s a nice, casual review of it here that happens to include the words of Oppenheim’s poem. Thanks for steering me to it.

  3. bronxboy55 Says:

    It almost seems appropriate that the English subtitles are out of whack. Everything about the film is just a little off, which made it all the more entertaining for me.

    Nice review. Merry Christmas!

  4. A.Kern Says:

    The subtitles in Bread and Tulips are not ‘absurd.’ Ganz’s character is a man who likes to speak in formal poetic phrases. Isn’t that made clear?! The subtitles reflect that perfectly.

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