Dir: Silvio Soldini. Italy-Switzerland. 2000. 115 mins.

Prod cos: Monogatari, Istituto Luce, RAI. Co-prods: Amka Films, TSI. Int'l sales: Adriana Chiesa (+39 06 807 0400). Prods: Daniele Maggioni, Tiziana Soudani. Scr: Doriana Leondeff, Silvio Soldini. DoP: Luca Bigazzi. Prod des: Paola Bizzarri. Ed: Carlotta Cristiani. Music: Giovanni Venosta. Main cast: Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz, Giuseppe Battiston, Antonio Catania, Marina Massironi, Felice Andreasi.

An Italian Thelma and Louise without the Louise - or any of the dramatic tension - Bread And Tulips is a charming but fragile film held together by Licia Maglietta's strong central performance. It has all the Soldini trademarks: women searching for fulfilment, a road movie theme played off against a strong sense of place (here a damp, domestic Venice deftly sketched in by DoP Luca Bigazzi), unlikely plotting. But the atmosphere is altogether lighter than in Soldini's three previous outings. The director seems keen to show that he can reach out beyond his usual festival and cineaste audience to a wider public, and the mid-life crisis brigade at least - still hungry after American Beauty - has responded to the call, turning the film into a steady domestic sleeper. At Italy's David di Donatello awards ceremony (April 19 - see separate story), the film swept the board with an impressive nine awards including best film, best director and best screenplay.

Like Soldini's previous film, Le Acrobate (The Acrobats), Bread And Tulips deals with a woman at a crossroads. Or rather at the motorway service station, which is where forty-something Rosalba is left behind by her absent-minded husband and friends during a coach tour. Incensed, she hitches north on a whim, and ends up in Venice. Here she meets up with an Icelandic waiter played with lugubrious formality by Wenders regular Bruno Ganz, and decides to stay, putting her own freedom, for once, above the demands of husband, family and society.

It's a touching story, let down in part by a descent into caricature in the sub-plot, which involves a fat detective and a holistic masseuse. But Rosalba herself is well-scripted, and portrayed by Maglietta with just the right combination of girlishness, maternal guilt and excited self-discovery.

The film is a hot contender for the Quinzaine, and - with the saleable combination of Venice and Ganz - could well appeal to the international market.