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[whitespace] 'Bread And Tulips'
Venetian Visitor: Licia Maclietta comes under the city's spell in 'Bread & Tulips.'

Canal Zone

A trip to Venice leads to old-fashioned romance

By Richard von Busack

THE DIFFERENCE between charm and irritation is like the difference between a person who quotes a few brief lines of Italian poetry and one who sits down and reads Ariosto's Orlando Furioso entire. The Italian import Bread & Tulips is loaded with charm. And yet it's also plainly too damned long; one smart minute would have spared the last half-hour. Until the taxing finale, Silvio Soldini's film is a class act on the lines of David Lean's Summertime--a Venice romance transforming a neglected woman of middle age. It begins in the middle of a depressing vacation; at a Greek temple, a tour guide tries to inspire love of pagan culture in a busload of bored, glib Italian tourists distracted by their electronic toys. Under some nicely turned slapstick circumstances, Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) gets marooned in the Italian version of a turnpike Howard Johnson's. She decides to hitchhike home and detours into Venice.

With the fantasy ease we're accustomed to from such tales, she finds a job, a room that needs cleaning and a man who needs a woman's attentions. This man calls himself "Girasole" (Sunflower). He's played by Bruno Ganz, the brooding angel from Wings of Desire. He's the suffering Scandinavian proprietor of a dying restaurant, ready to hang himself when Rosalba distracts him from the noose. In the meantime, she finds a beautiful accordion, spangled with glitter and rhinestones, sitting unused in a closet. The love of a woman for an accordion is one of the few pure things on this sordid globe, so Bread & Tulips is never sweeter than when Maglietta has her gentle face pressed against the instrument, transported by Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie."

Soldini's has kept his film tart, though, taking in the forlornness of Venice along with the magic. There's a clown (Guiseppe Battison), an asthmatic mama's boy hired by the wrathful husband to track down his strayed wife (presumably, he's not finished yelling at her), who experiences the comic/awful side of a trip to Venice. While Battison is mildly amusing, his subplot stretches the movie past its welcome. Should our heroine stay in Venice where she has a landlord/suitor who loves her so much he can barely speak to her? Or should she go back to her boorish husband who cheats on her and sells plumbing supplies? Out of such perplexing riddles, romantic movies are made. Though Bread & Tulips can be as exasperating as the best of them, it's far more appealing than the most of them.

Bread & Tulips (PG-13; 104 min.), directed Silvio Soldini, written by Doriana Leondeff, photographed by Luca Bigazzi and starring Licia Maglietta and Bruno Ganz, opens Friday at the in San Jose at Camera 3.

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From the August 30-September 5, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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