Gianni e le donne (The Salt of Life)
In his warm and witty follow-up to the 2010 sleeper hit Mid-August Lunch, writer-director-actor Gianni Di Gregorio has created another sparkling comedy—this time with a dash of the bittersweet. In The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne), Gianni plays a middle-aged retiree who has become invisible to all distaff Romans, regardless of age or relation. He contends with an aristocratic, spendthrift mother (again played by Lunch’s great nonagenarian Valeria de Franciscis); a wife who is more patronizing friend than romantic partner; a daughter (played by Di Gregorio’s daughter Teresa) with a slacker boyfriend whom Gianni unwillingly befriends; and a wild young neighbor who sees him merely as her dog walker. Watching his “codger” friends snare beautiful younger women on the sun-kissed cobblestones of Trastevere, Gianni tries his polite, utterly gracious best to generate some kind of extracurricular love life—with both hilarious and poignant results.
Di Gregorio (who also wrote the script) has set up a stock scenario for sure. But it is what he does with it, and the way he tosses in casual but significant grace notes, that makes all the difference. Di Gregorio – who seems to be carrying the full weight of unrequited sexual desire in the cartoonishly heavy bags under his eyes – specializes in self-deprecation, especially when it comes to machismo. When Gianni dons a new suit and struts past his buddies – they sit outside in their tracksuits, talking about football and women, possibly in that order – one of them remarks, “He must have a date!” only to have another retort, “He’s probably going to a christening.” He does, in fact, have a date, but the suit does not help him much.
“Gianni’s inability to get anything started is not just a running gag – it is the picture’s backbone, although Di Gregorio keeps the action and the jokes lissome and fluid, rather than locking them into a rigid formula. As actor, director and writer, he approaches the idea of ever-present longing with the suppleness of a dancer. On the surface, The Salt of Life may seem like a movie made just for old folks. The trick is that it really is about the youth that stays with you, even when your aging body is working hard to convince you otherwise.” (Stephanie Zacharek, Movieline)
“Funny…. Inescapable charm…. Couldn’t be more delicious!” (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times)
“The movie’s sensuous appreciation of ripeness and abundance extends to food, clothing and foliage; the lushness of a city in bloom virtually bursts from the screen.” (Stephen Holden, The New York Times)