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‘The Salt Of Life’: Looking For Love At A Certain Age

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
March 1, 2012

Rome’s women have decided that Gianni, a 60-something retiree, is no longer a sexual being. Gianni begs to differ. That’s the crux of The Salt of Life, a sort of sequel — in spirit, if not in plot — to writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio’s 2008 charmer, Mid-August Lunch.

As in that film, Di Gregorio plays the beleaguered protagonist, while Valeria De Franciscis impersonates his demanding nonagenarian mother, Valeria. For this gently incisive movie, though, the director has expanded both the cast and the scope.

Gianni’s wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) has a career and little interest in her longtime husband; their college-student daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio, the director’s actual daughter) is busy studying and partying. Teresa’s unemployed boyfriend, Michi (Michelangelo Criminale), more or less lives with the family.

Forced into retirement years before, Gianni draws a modest pension. He’s angling to get a chunk of his wealthy mother’s fortune, but she’d rather spend it on champagne lunches for her card-game buddies and gifts for her Romanian caretaker, Cristina (Kristina Cepraga).

Gianni is casually tortured by his beautiful neighbor, Aylin (Aylin Prandi), who flirts with him yet appreciates him primarily as an unpaid dog walker. (Dogs play significant roles in the movie, and their presence underscores Di Gregorio’s facial resemblance to a basset hound.)

Aylin isn’t Gianni’s only distaff exploiter in the movie (whose Italian title means “Gianni and the Women”). He serves as an errand boy for all the women in his life, most notably his imperious mother. She gets “sick” every time Cristina has a day off, and sometimes summons her son merely to adjust the fine tuning on the TV she uses to watch poker tournaments.

Around the neighborhood, Gianni observes men his age who have found younger lovers. Sometimes he dares hope he’ll join their ranks. He attempts to woo a newly divorced woman, and looks up the ex-girlfriend he almost married. Gianni’s lawyer friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) is less romantic in his amorous designs, although no more successful.

As the character names suggest, Di Gregorio has built The Salt of Life from ingredients close at hand. Gianni, like his alter ego, lives in Trastevere, just across the Tiber from central Rome. And Gianni’s plight is based on his creator’s firsthand observations about men of his age.

Yet the filmmaker is not just a monologist who’s decided to act out his personal frustrations. A veteran actor and screenwriter, Di Gregorio has scripted lives far different from his own, notably when he wrote Gomorrah, the brutal 2008 Mafia drama. The Salt of Life is easygoing and naturalistic, but clearly a work of imagination.

Aided by fluid handheld camerawork from cinematographer Gogo Bianchi, Di Gregorio conjures a Rome that’s homey and literally warm — it seems to be August again — with just a hint of Fellini-like frenzy. This delirium is amplified in the climactic sequence, whose lively musical accompaniment is a surprise that won’t be spoiled here.

Mid-August Lunch closed with a small but satisfying development. The Salt of Life is more open-ended, but then how could it not be? If Di Gregorio truly knew how to bridge the chasm between desire and reality, he’d be a messiah, not a filmmaker. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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