Tag Archives: C

BREAD AND TULIPS (PANE E TULIPANI)

“Bread and Tulips” should appeal to audiences with an appetite for dreamy romantic blather without any concern for logic or common sense. Silvio Soldini’s fable is a feel-good helping of cinematic tiramisu–it’s sweet and spongy, but rather clammy and artificial. It will take a strong stomach to swallow it without feeling the emotional equivalent of a sugar rush; but viewers who embraced such American examples as “Sleepless in Seattle” might want to give it a taste.

One distinction the picture has over others of its ilk is that the characters are decidedly middle-aged rather than the twenty-somethings Hollywood efforts along these lines have lately tended to be (an exception, of course, was Warren Beatty’s “Love Story,” itself a remake of “An Affair ro Remember”). The heroine is Rosalba (Licia Maglietta), a housewife who gets separated from her family while on a bus tour and, while hitching rides home, decides on a lark to visit Venice, a place she’s always wanted to see. She finds it a fairytale-like place, especially after, short of cash, she’s befriended by Fernando (Bruno Ganz), who offers her temporary accommodation in his small, cluttered apartment. Rosalba intends to leave shortly, but entranced by the city and her new-found freedom, instead secures a job with an eccentric florist named Fermo (Felice Andreasi), leaving her irate husband Mimmo (Antonio Catania) to send Constantino (Giuseppe Battiston), a chubby plumber with a yen to play detective, to find her. From this point things get more and more complicated. Constantino eventually links up with Fernando’s bubble-headed neighbor Grazia (Marina Massironi), while Rosalba becomes more and more intrigued with the sad-faced Fernando’s private life; Fernando, meanwhile, gradually abandons his (quite literally) suicidal tendencies and grows ever more romantically interested in her. A magical coupling seems in the cards for these two unlikely souls, until Rosalba is called home by word of difficulties with her sons and Fernando, distraught, must decide whether to follow her and declare his feelings.

Obviously “Bread and Tulips” is meant to portray, in hardly realistic terms, a woman’s struggle between the conventional demands of a married life that’s not longer satisfying but stifling, and the prospect of a new existence that’s both liberated and loving. It tries to fuse comedy and sentimental drama in a convincing whole, but the seams never quite join. On the one hand, the material dealing with the relationship between Rosalba and Mimmo plays like a rather crude farce, and the largely separate stuff involving Constantino as a bumbling sleuth is from yet a second farcical piece, a sort of Inspector-Clouseau-on-the-Adriatic tale. Then there’s the growing attachment between Rosalba and Fernando, which is never so much dramatized as simply assumed. The waiter, for example, is initially depicted as being on the verge of hanging himself, but later we learn that he has a grandson on whom he dotes, making the first impression of him seem false. The characterizations of Fermo, an irritable anarchist, and Grazia, a holistic masseuse, strike one as simply contrived. Soldini also punctuates the narrative with visions of the past and a hallucinatory present that the heroine occasionally experiences; these are terribly forced. And then there’s the problem of the ending. A story such as this, in which a married woman is essentially courted by another man, can never be closed entirely satisfactorily, and Soldini hasn’t succeeded in doing so. He tacks on a denouement that will perhaps be satisfactory at first glance, but on reflection is a cop-out, drenched in schmaltz and aiming desperately for an atmosphere of magical romance that it doesn’t manage to achieve.

On the other hand, there are pleasures here. Maglietta is energetic as Rosalba, and Ganz quite affecting as the dour Fernando. Battiston works hard to make the momma’s boy Constantino both amusing and touching, and succeeds more often than not. The relationship depicted between Rosalba and her two nonchalant sons has the ring of truth to it. And, of course, Venice is a perpetually lovely locale, well captured by Luca Bigazzi’s bright, vivid cinematography.

Ultimately, though, the picture never escapes the scent of deep calculation, a pervading feeling that everything has been so artfully contrived to tug at the heartstrings and tickle the funnybone that the audience is being treated more like a bunch of Pavlovian dogs than intelligent examples of homo sapiens. It may had the desired effect on you while it’s unspooling, but afterwards you’ll probably know you’ve been had.

The original Italian title of the film, incidentally, was obviously selected for its almost poetic repetition–“Pane e Tulipani.” But translated without imagination into English, it hasn’t much meaning. (Even Fermo’s disquisition on tulips at the midway point doesn’t help much.) And like the flowers Rosalba leaves behind for Fernando when she returns to her family, the movie tends to droop and wilt too quickly for comfort.

HAPPY ACCIDENTS

Grade: C+

It’s more than a little unfortunate that Brad Anderson’s whimsical little comedy about a young woman, unlucky in love, who’s romanced by a fellow who claims to be from the future (and says that he’s come back in time to rescue her from a terrible fate), is being released so soon after “America’s Sweethearts.” In that picture, you might recall, the premise of the big-budget studio production everyone was waiting to see (called “Time After Time”) was precisely the same, and the implication was that the idea was a pretty awful one. (It had also been used, of course, in the stultifying 1980 Christopher Reeve vehicle, “Somewhere in Time.”)

“Happy Accidents” isn’t nearly as bad as its basic plot would lead you to expect, though, because it’s pleasantly small-scaled and blessed with lead performances which, while hardly the last word in subtlety, at least have the virtues of directness and a certain homely charm. Marisa Tomei, who’s been mostly wasted in lousy supporting roles since winning her Oscar, tones things down a bit from her norm as Ruby Weaver, a New Yorker in therapy whose main hobby is commiserating with her friends over their failed relationships. She accidentally meets Sam Deed (Vincent D’Onofrio), a somewhat spacey but apparently good-natured guy (with a distinctly Capraesque name) who knows a lot of weird things. Before long they’ve become a couple, and gradually D’Onofrio reveals that he’s a refugee from 2470 A.D. The rest of the movie basically concerns itself with whether Ruby can learn to live with Sam’s apparently mild derangement so they can have a real future together.

The problem with “Happy Accidents” is that once the fragile premise has been established, Anderson can’t figure out what to do with it except to repeat the same crisis over and over again. Though he varies the circumstances somewhat in each case, what we get is a series of sequences in which Ruby becomes quasi-hysterical over Sam’s claim to be a time-traveller and, after a period of standoffishness, subsides into a generalized acceptance again, only to be startled once more by some new revelation. The fact that Anderson can keep a viewer’s interest at all under these circumstances is a testimony to his powers of invention–a scene in which Anthony Michael Hall appears as himself and takes Sam’s flights of fancy as an example of thespian improvisation at its very best could have been a disaster, but is saved by deft writing and D’Onofrio’s skill–but that doesn’t alter the fact that the picture grows repetitive (and given that, runs on far too long). And under pressure of playing essentially the same scene over and over, Tomei becomes increasingly shrill as the plot progresses, though never intolerably so.

Then there’s the ending. Anderson obviously felt it necessary to concoct a tense sequence that would happily conclude Sam’s efforts to save Ruby from an unpleasant fate, and leave viewers smiling at the outcome. Unfortunately, what’s he’s come up with is a messy variation of the “turning back the clock” device that Richard Donner used to end the first “Superman” movie in 1978. It felt like a cheat in a multi-million dollar Hollywood extravaganza, and is no better when stripped of the special effects and presented in a minimalist way. Undiscriminating viewers might go along with it, but the more discerning will groan.

“Happy Accidents” is a mildly amusing picture mostly rescued from its worst instincts by a couple of attractive leads. But while, like D’Onofrio, it has a certain gangly charm, it’s just too frail and wispy to go the distance.