Tulipani: A romantic bastard funding-child of Holland, Italy and Canada still has its charms

By Jim Slotek

Rating: B-minus

The lukewarm charmer Tulipani: Love, Honor and a Bicycle is, if nothing else, a textbook example of writing to make funding agencies happy.

It is no small feat to come up with a plot that encompasses locations in the Netherlands, Italy and Canada, justifying financial participation from all three countries. But director Mike van Diem and co-writer Peter van Wijk do it passably well, by larding the story over with quirk, melodrama and head-scratching improbabilities.

 Gauke and Ria (Gijs Naber and Anneke Sluiters) bring tulips to southern Italy in Tulipani

Gauke and Ria (Gijs Naber and Anneke Sluiters) bring tulips to southern Italy in Tulipani

For all that, its good intentions have paid off in several film festival invitations (including last year’s Toronto International Film Festival) and a People’s Choice Award at this year’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival. Italians call it an Italian film, the Dutch call it a Dutch film. And Canadians call it a cameo (being as how it merely opens in snowy “Montreal” which, for tax reasons, is actually Hamilton).

As Tulipani opens in 1980, we meet Anna, (Ksenia Solo), who is at her mother’s death bed, in a Montreal hospital, acceding to her dying request to return her ashes to her village in Puglia, at the heel of Italy’s boot. The real reason for the request, of course, is for Anna to discover long-lost secrets about her provenance. Soon she meets her mother’s best friend Immacolata (Lidia Vitale) and her handsome son Vito (Michele Venitucci).

And then – surprise – the three of them are suddenly being interviewed about a suspicious death by a world-weary police inspector (the great Giancarlo Giannini, in his easiest pay-day since his last Frank D'Angelo movie).

This is, narratively speaking, a set-up to tell the movie’s real story, which starts in flood-stricken Holland in the 1950s. Tired of wet boots, indefatigable romantic Gauke (Anna’s father, played by Gijs Naber) decides to head south, all the way to Italy by bike where he enters Puglia like a tall, pale hero. Soon he is joined by his wife Ria (Anneke Sluiters), and both their ardent ovemaking and their supernaturally magnificent and prolific tulip farm become the talk of the town. 

Their success as tulip dealers attracts the attention of the town’s stereotypical Mafioso, whom Gauke at first dispatches with martial arts ability we didn’t know he had (a generous take on all this might be that Tulipani is partly a commentary on how tales grow taller with time). But for all its quirks, the movie has a tragic final act, ameliorated somewhat by possibly the most explosive fart joke ever put to film. 

Believable, Tulipani is not. But even with its narrative contortions, it is good-hearted, unembarrassed to wield ridiculousness and clichés and anything else it can muster to win over an audience (and investors).

Tulipani: Love, Honor and a Bicycle. Directed by Mike van Diem. Starring Gijs Naber, Ksenia Solo and Giancarlo Giannini. Opens Friday, Sept. 7 in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver.