One of the first real movie reviews I ever tried to write was of “That Thing You Do!,” the charming Tom Hanks nostalgia piece from 1996. I remember being very pleased with myself for making what I thought was a rather astute observation: That movie has no villain. The only conflicts come from among the band members themselves, and even those are nothing more than basic ego trips or jealousy fits.
At the time, “That Thing You Do!” still seemed wonderful and funny, despite what might be perceived as a liability in the conflict department. I realized how much of a liability that was when I tried to watch it a second time a few years later. I couldn’t get into it, because there was just so much of NOTHING going on. It’s great to see characters happy, but it’s hard to maintain a story unless there are some setbacks.
And so it is with “Bread and Tulips,” an Italian film that has little in common with “That Thing You Do!” aside from its lack of a significant conflict. It’s about a bored housewife named Rosalba (Licia Maglietta) who gets separated from her husband (Antonio Catania) and sons while on vacation and decides she might as well have some time to herself. She stops off in Venice, gets a job at a flower shop, and lives in a spare room owned by a mildly suicidal restaurateur named Fernando (Bruno Ganz).
Her husband, meanwhile, is flustered. She hasn’t left him — there was never any fight or anything — and she’s not opposed to dropping postcards now and then to say hello. So what IS she doing?
What she’s doing, of course, is “finding herself,” developing a cordial friendship with Fernando (whose erudite vocabulary is one of the movie’s treasures) and learning to enjoy life. Her husband sends an incompetent oaf (Giuseppe Battiston) to Venice to find her, but even that potential conflict is defused with more pleasantness.
Whimsical touches abound, some of them laugh-out-loud funny. More often, the film is just affable, like the guy in your group of friends who doesn’t add much to the conversation but always has a friendly smile on, which makes him nice to have around. It is a slow-going but very, very sweet movie.
B (; )