Vittorio De Sica plays the middle-aged marshal Antonio Carotenuto of the Carabinieri in a remote fictional Italian mountain village named Sagliena (actually the village of Castel San Pietro Romano, in Lazio). He's anxious to marry, and selects young Maria De Ritis (Gina Lollobrigida) as his bride; but she is already in love with De Sica's shy subordinate Pietro Stelluti (played by Roberto Risso). Mistaking her headstrong behavior as promiscuity, De Sica makes advances towards her, but she spurns him. Forsaking the girl to the arms of Risso, De Sica decides to settle for village midwife Annarella Mirziano (Marisa Merlini). Things become more complicated when Annarella, the midwife, starts demonstrating her love to Antonio. She is hiding a secret and the Marshal soon will be in a difficult situation.
Pane, amore e fantasia is usually considered the most famous example of Pink neorealism.
The film contains what many critics regard as Gina Lollobrigida's best and most naturalistic performance. The film's popularity resulted in two sequels, one with Lollobrigida: Pane, amore e gelosia (US title: Frisky) and the open-ended Pane, amore e... (English title: Scandal in Sorrento) starring Sophia Loren in the female lead role. De Sica also reprised his role in the Spanish-set Bread, Love and Andalusia (1958).