Bread and Tulips
For a hundred years movies have served as the art form of escape; we have eagerly gone into dark rooms to free ourselves from the tensions of real life and give ourselves to the shadow-lives we see on the screen. What we escape to is less important than what we escape from; the need is just to escape - and so we do, for an hour and a half or two hours, for popcorn, for the vicarious thrills and pleasures of movie life. Over the years a number of films have taken that very theme of escape and used it as their own core, and Silvio Soldini's film "Bread and Tulips" is a delicious example of the genre.
An Italian tour bus filled with families on vacation stops at a highway quick-stop, and fortyish housewife Rosalba Barletta (Licia Maglietta) goes to the bathroom. We've seen that she is alternately put upon by her two sons, and ignored by her plumbing-supply dealer husband. While she is in the bathroom the bus takes off without her, and on an impulse she decides not to wait to be picked up but to hitchhike on her own. Instead of going home, though, she feels adventurous. She's never been to Venice, and finds someone to take her there.
Stopping only to make not-so-frantic calls to her husband, saying only that she's in Venice and will return home on her own, she finds a place to stay in the apartment of a depressed restaurant waiter (Bruno Ganz), meets the new-age masseuse across the hall (Marina Massironi), and gets herself a job at a florist shop. Her husband, upset only because he can't do his own laundry (he asks his mistress if she'll do his shirts; she says, dismissively, "I'm your mistress, not your wife."), finds an unlikely young man who reads detective fiction (the deliciously portly Giuseppi Battiston) and hires him to go to Venice and locate Rosalba. The film takes its time with the story, enjoying every moment and leisurely moving everyone to the inevitable, and appropriate, resolutions of their lives. Dozens of witty moments and confrontations and near-misses come upon us without being forced or sounding contrived.
Maglietta is a perfect choice as the lead, carrying the tone and sensibility of the film on her shoulders. She is warm, still sexy, open to the others and to us in the audience. Ganz, who has made a career of playing dark, dangerous and depressed roles, is soft and vulnerable here. Soldini is an almost invisible director, refusing to make showy shots - in Venice, yet! - letting his people take us and the camera along for the ride. It's a wonderful ride.