×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Tulipani: Love, Honor and a Bicycle’

This crowd-pleasing tall tale about romance and familial complications in a small Italian village wilts from suffocating whimsy.

Director:
Mike van Diem
With:
Ksenia Solo, Giancarlo Giannini, Gijs Naber, Lidia Vitale, Anneke Sluiters, Donatella Finocchiaro, Giorgio Pasotti, Michele Venitucci. (Italian, Dutch, English dialogue)

1 hour 30 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4121610/

The generous take on the broad whimsy of Mike van Diem’s “Tulipani: Love, Honor and a Bicycle” is that the director is playing with national iconography, bringing the floral majesty of the Netherlands into a storybook Italian village where only fedora-donning gangsters stand in the way of communal bliss. Yet Van Diem, who collected a foreign language film Oscar for “Character” in 1998, has constructed this movie as a Matryoshka doll of sickly sweet clichés, with nested stories that burst forth with familiar tropes about romance, revenge and family entanglements, and feature a touristy feel for the Apulian locale. The primary color palette and a light, crowd-pleasing tone wins “Tulipani” some initial good will, but as the story lurches from random wackiness to dark melodrama, Van Diem quickly loses his grip. It seems unlikely tulip fever will spread far beyond the festival circuit.

As a divertissement, “Tulipani” does have its appeals, especially in the early going, when it merrily hops around from the 1950s to the 1980s, and from snowy Montreal to the Mediterranean climes of Puglia, Italy, a village on the heel of the Italian boot. Van Diem and his co-screenwriter, Peter van Wijk, have packaged the story as Almodóvar lite, an elegant tangle of plot threads that combine in part to celebrate the possibilities of storytelling itself, as well as flash their own dexterity in pulling it off. But such narrative soufflés have to be managed delicately to maintain their lightness, and this one collapses under the weight of silly conceits and tonal instability.

In 1980 Montreal, the brilliant yellows and purples of tulip arrangements are the only colors breaking the sea of snowy white outside and the sterile interiors of a hospital, where Anna (Ksenia Solo) is attending to her mother on her death bed. Mom’s last request is for Anna to return her ashes to her hometown in Italy, surely knowing that her daughter will learn some important things about herself in the process. Not long after meeting her mother’s old friend Immacolata (Lidia Vitale) and her handsome, son, Vito (Michele Venitucci), the three are questioned by a local police inspector (Giancarlo Giannini, a Lina Wertmüller favorite), who pulls up a chair and listens to why Anna’s cigarette lighter was found at a crime scene.

From there, the film flashes back to the ’50s, when a major flood drove Anna’s father, Gauke (Gijs Naber), from Holland to Italy by bike, a more than 2,000-kilometer distance he covered in a mere five days. The tall tales continue from there — like how he arrived in Puglia like Christ the redeemer, with beard and cross in tow, and how he and his beautiful wife, Ria (Anneke Sluiters), planted tulips on their farm and watched them bloom the very next morning. Though beloved by the townspeople, Gauke runs into a conflict with local racketeers, who want their piece of his thriving flower business, but in one of the film’s dopiest sequences, he knocks them all out with kung fu. The bad guys don’t give up so easily, however, responding with an act of revenge that takes the story to a much darker place.

Van Diem and Van Wijk set up a tricky balancing act in a story that has to be calibrated with the precision of a Swiss watch yet somehow feel spontaneous and zany. They largely succeed in orchestrating the plot, which accommodates multiple timelines, a dual funeral and a host of revelations about Anna’s family roots. But “Tulipani” soon grows tiresome in its particulars, from the deification of Gauke as the swarthy, self-sacrificing avatar of hard work and romantic potency to lowbrow touches like his martial arts display and an epic, world-changing fart in the town square.

At the end of this 90-minute piffle, there comes the sour realization that Van Diem has offered no nourishment beyond the empty calories of his presumed virtuosity and charm. There’s nothing specific to ’50s Alpulia that couldn’t be gleaned from tourist guides and paperback fantasies, and there’s no authentic emotion in Anna’s journey of self-discovery. “Tulipani” is a bright flower that’s been yanked away from the soil; as a result, it’s doomed to wilt and rot.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Tulipani: Love, Honor and a Bicycle'

Reviewed at Chicago Film Festival (World Cinema), Oct. 24, 2017. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: (Netherlands-Italy-Canada) An Atlas Intl. Film presentation of a Fatt Prods., Draka Prod., Stemo Prod. and Don Carmody Televisions production. Producers: Hans de Beers, Elwin Loose, Carmody, David Cormican, Corrado Azzollini, Claudio Bucci. Executive producers: Joris van Wijk, Michel Vandewalle. (International sales: Atlas Intl. Film, Munich) CREW Director: Mike van Diem. Screenplay: Peter van Wijk, van Diem. Camera (color, widescreen): Luc Brefeld, Lennart Hillege. Editor: Jessica De Koning. Music: Ari Posner, Jim McGrath.

With: Ksenia Solo, Giancarlo Giannini, Gijs Naber, Lidia Vitale, Anneke Sluiters, Donatella Finocchiaro, Giorgio Pasotti, Michele Venitucci. (Italian, Dutch, English dialogue)

More Film

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

    Film Review: 'A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'

    No asteroids are hurtling toward Earth in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” though a flying frozen pizza does softly slice the top off an elderly shopper’s hairdo: That’s roughly the level of quirky peril we’re talking about in the latest outing from Aardman Animations, and as usual, the British stop-motion masters cheerfully prove that [...]

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content