Starring Ksenia Solo. In English, Italian, and Dutch, with English subtitles. Rated 14A
Fablelike charm and a few edgy turns take some of the treacle out of this aggressively crowd-pleasing international coproduction, which manages to cram multiple ethnic stereotypes into a beautifully shot, if strangely silly, fantasy of love et cetera.
Dutch director Marleen Gorris, who released the Oscar-winning Antonia’s Line in 1995 and Mrs. Dalloway two years later, was supposed to direct Peter van Wijk’s script for Tulipani. When she had health problems, the task fell to Mike van Diem, who got his own foreign-language Oscar for 1997’s Character. Van Diem, who subsequently coauthored the script, begins things in 1980, perhaps just to ensure that no ugly cellphones will rear their story-killing heads.
Canadian ex–child star Ksenia Solo, who was born in Latvia, plays Anna, a red-haired Montrealer who heads to the old country when her Italian mamma suddenly dies. No sooner does Anna arrive in the quaintly cobblestoned Puglia region than her crimson locks arrest café keeper Immacolata (The Best of Youth’s Lidia Vitale) and grown son Vito (Michele Venitucci). They immediately regale her with tales of her real mother and the father she never knew. Well, first some farcical things happen to attract the attention of a jaded police inspector (’70s fave Giancarlo Giannini), who sits patiently through the flashbacks-within-flashbacks structure. (A few scenes were also shot in Lithuania and Hamilton, Ontario, for more complication.)
Travelling another 27 years into the past, it turns out that future dad was a Dutch farmer called Gauke (Gijs Naber), who escapes an infamous flood and rides his sturdy bike—hence the subtitle—all the way down the heel of Italy’s boot. Before that, actually, we find him copulating with a Botticelli-maned damsel (Anneke Sluiters) whose name he won’t learn until, oh, about 10 months later.
The bearded and bedraggled foreigner is taken in by Immacolata and son (played by Venitucci again, but with cast standout Gianni Pezzolla as the much littler Vito). Gauke buys a farm and starts growing tulips. Because, remember, he’s Dutch! Soon the local Mafiosi start horning in on his business, and it takes a tall, blond foreigner to put them in their place. That, and fart jokes. The results, while variable, prove entertaining enough to encourage the suspension of critical faculties for just about 90 minutes.