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"



We watched “Summertime,” a 1955 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossanno Brazzi, inspired — if I remember right — by the fact that it was shot entirely on location in Venice. In that respect, it was no disappointment. The photography took full advantage of the city.

The premise of the movie is that Jane Hudson (Hepburn), an executive secretary from Akron, Ohio, is vacationing in Venice. It is clear from the beginning that Jane leads a life devoid of excitement and that she came to Venice with the vague hope — accompanied by a vague fear — that something extraordinary will happen to her. The “something,” which anyone would have deduced from the opening credits, is Renato de Rossi (Brazzi), a Venetian shopkeeper with a complicated domestic life.


After what seems like an interminable buildup, during which Jane’s discomfort as a solo act in Venice is excruciatingly developed, she and Renato have a couple of chance meetings in which Jane’s skittish reaction to him is difficult to understand. At last their acquaintance flourishes until it is consummated in something that couldn’t be shown on the screen in 1955 but was ably represented by fireworks exploding over Venice while one of Jane’s new red shoes lies forsaken on the balcony of Renato’s apartment.

I won’t be a spoiler, but let’s just say there won’t be an opening for a secretary in Akron.

One of many panoramic views of Venice in "Summertime."

We found this film worth watching, but it’s got its flaws. One is that the transitions in Jane’s moods from one scene to the next are rather abrupt in a couple of cases. That might be a function of a larger problem, which is that this movie is largely about Jane’s interior life, but we don’t get much of a look at that. We don’t know why this woman, whom Renato finds irresistible, was incapable of finding romance without coming to Venice.

This film was based on “The Time of the Cuckoo,” which is a play by Arthur Laurents, who — among other things — wrote the books for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” I haven’t seen that play, but it ran on Broadway in 1952-53 and won a best-actress Tony award for Shirley Booth, who played the character originally named Leona Samish.


I do know Arthur, though, and I have seen several plays he has written more recently. His work displays a great deal of  insight into the human psyche — maybe I should say the human soul — particularly where love is concerned. I suspect Jane is more understandable in the play.

I have read that the makers of this film didn’t like Arthur’s screenplay and hired another writer to monkey with it. If so, I don’t think they did the audience any favors.