Italian comedy Bread And Tulips marks a change in direction for co-writer and director Silvio Soldini, known for his weighty dramas, yet the project quickly secured Swiss and Italian backing. It went on to be a local box office hit, sweep the board at local film awards the Davide di Donatello, and screen in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes. Natasha Senjanovic reports on the history of its making.

Summer-Autumn 1998
Independent director Silvio Soldini and co-screenwriter Doriana Leondeff come up with an idea for a comedy that is a departure from Soldini's earlier more psychologically dramatic features. A middle-aged mother of two is accidentally left behind at a rest stop during a family vacation and she decides on a whim to go to Venice where she ends up building a new life for herself.

Soldini and Leondeff secure a $3.85m loan from the MEDIA II programme to develop the script. "Soldini wanted to do a non-traditionally Italian comedy, give it a broader scope and a more widely European flavour," explains Daniele Maggioni, Soldini's partner at production outfit Monogatori Film, and the film's executive producer.

The main role of Rosalba is written for Licia Maglietta, who starred in Soldini's previous film, Le Acrobate (The Acrobats). Swiss actor Bruno Ganz is approached for the male lead, an Icelandic waiter, and accepts immediately. Ganz had previously told leading Italian actor Fabrizio Bentivoglio that he was interested in working with Soldini while the two actors were working on Theo Angelopolous' Eternity And A Day in 1997.

January 1999
Monogatori approaches RAI Cinema and state-owned production company Istituto Luce for funds, and gets the green light almost immediately. Swiss-based production companies Amka and Televisione Svizzero Italiano, with which Monogatori has produced several documentaries, also sign on quickly (although their participation is not connected to Ganz's involvement). The film's budget is projected at $2.5m (L4.9bn). Of this 20% comes from the Swiss and 80% from the Italians.

Spring 1999
Casting is conducted simultaneously as the film goes into pre-production. Supporting actors are chosen relatively quickly, but the search for Rosalba's sons takes almost two months as regular Soldini casting agent Jorgelina De Petris visits all the discos, schools and soccer fields of Pescara, Italy.

April-July 1999
Shooting begins at the end of April in Venice and continues in Pescara and Rome. Shooting stalls midway for two weeks during a national technician's strike and is finally completed in mid-July. The film goes slightly over budget during shooting, by $100,000, which Monogatori must cover as the contracts with RAI and Istituto Luce are fixed.

Autumn 1999
Post-production begins in September after the summer vacation. Monogatori rents an Avid and all editing is done in their Milan office. Top Italian sales office Adriana Chiesa sees the first cut in November and immediately agrees to sell the film. The sound is edited by Maurizio Argentieri at Sonoro in Rome in December - Argentieri goes on to win the Davide di Donatello for the work. The film is mixed in January at International Recording in Rome.

March-May 2000
Bread And Tulips is released by Istituto Luce on fewer than 30 screens in March and gets good critical reviews, attracting a widening audience primarily through word-of-mouth. In April, the film sweeps the David di Donatello awards, picking up nine awards including best film, best director, best screenplay, best actor, best actress and best supporting actor and actress. Istituto Luce pushes up the number of screens from 40 to 120. "The awards are a huge recognition for international European filmmaking, not just commercial Italian cinema," says Maggioni. "Since we've made all our films completely independently - we're not good at accepting too many external conditions, especially commercial ones - this is extremely important to us."

Bread And Tulips premieres in Directors' Fortnight.

Prod cos: Monogatori (It), Istituto Luce (It), RAI Cinema (It). Co-prods: Amka Films (Switz), Televisione Svizzero Italiano. Int'l sales: Adriana Chiesa Enterprises (39) 06 807 0400. Exec prod: Daniele Maggioni. Prod: Tiziana Soudani, Giuseppe Cereda. Director: Silvio Soldini. Main cast: Licia Maglietta, Bruno Ganz, Giuseppe Batiston, Antonio Catania, Marina Massironi.

Territories sold: Australia/New Zealand (Palace), Japan (Gaga).

Actor Giuseppe Batiston
A theatrically trained actor, Giuseppe Batiston has also had small roles in Soldini's Le Acrobate and Una Anima Divisa In Due. After winning the best supporting actor Davide di Donatello award, he was picked up by top Italian agency Carol Levy.