Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.” Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini. van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons. (Read van Diem’s interview here) After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.
Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins. The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader. “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.
We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place. As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home. Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy. Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home. Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life. That is, until the mob interferes. All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.
There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives. The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly. Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito. Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends. Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in. He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends. The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real. We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms. Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly. Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do. Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface. His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun. It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story. Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!
van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands. Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story. And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country. van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.” Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!
“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion. van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.