Bread & Tulips

Despite being a die-hard romantic, I'm not usually a proponent of l'affair, the "I'm leaving you for another man" syndrome. Suffice it to say, I've never seen The Bridges of Madison County (and don't want to), I thought the soulful protagonist of The Age of Innocence was a dip, and I was on Billy Zane's side during all three hours of Titanic (typical woosy "I'm my own woman but I don't have enough guts to be honest and run the risks of my own mistakes" attitude at work there. I was willing to credit that she didn't have the nerve to stand up to Billy Zane because he was, you know, the bad guy, but I thought she could have had the moral fiber to at least not have sex with another guy when she was already having sex with her fiance).

However, Bread & Tulips is an exception to the typical woman-leaves-husband scenario, although it isn't really an exception because it is so much its own kind of movie. It is the tale of a Italian mother who gets seperated from her family during a vacation, goes to Venice and well, stays, more or less. It's a beautiful film and incredibly romantic although the fated couple don't even kiss until the credits. The romance is less about sex and more about joie de vivre, the lushness, fundamental wonder and quiet beauty of life: bread and tulips. More importantly, there is no overwhelming American Beauty type angst. This isn't about the secret, tawdry underworld of the middle class (American or Italian). It isn't about the futility of life and how you can only find happiness in someone else's arms, blah, blah, blah. There's no angst involved at all.

Which isn't to say that the exceptionally light touch at work in the film is devoid of substance. The mom experiences a series of "waking" dreams, dreams that reinvoke the family life that she isn't really running away from but isn't running towards either. This isn't about escape, rather it is about finding something of worth, in oneself, in life, for one's children.

But even that sounds like special pleading. It is nearly impossible to convey the feel of the film. It is not preachy, belonging (in bouquet loads) to the "show don't tell" philosophy of story-telling. This happened. And this. And this is how it felt. The audience is guided gently into a world that seems almost fairytalish and yet more real than reality. The final scenes invoke the dragon-slaying of fairytales, only in a harmonious, golden, sleepy Venice kind of way. It is one of the happiest films I've ever seen (alongside Joe Versus the Volcano). There are very few movies in this world that can make me wish I was over forty and in Venice at the same time. But it does.


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