The Salt Of Life

The Salt Of Life

***1/2

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Gianni di Gregorio had a sudden success at the age of 60 with his award-winning film Mid-August Lunch, which he wrote, directed and starred in. He now follows this with The Salt of Life, again taking the leading role himself as the ageing son of a strong matriarch.

Gianni has been forced into early retirement and spends his days running errands for his wife, walking his dog and that of his gorgeous downstairs neighbour and dealing with many demanding phone calls from Mamma.

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His teenage daughter (played by di Gregorio's own daughter) and her slacker boyfriend also share his flat. And so his days slip by, until his friend (Alfonso Santagata) begins to tell him about his recent surprising sexual adventures and says “Aren't you interested in women any more, Gianni?” He is astonished to learn that even Maurizio, who always wears a tracksuit and spends his days sitting on the pavement chatting with two other old men, has had a lover for the past two years, the woman in the corner shop. Everyone else seems to know this.

Gianni begins to think he is the only one missing out. He starts to notice two things: that there are a lot of attractive women about and that there are a lot of sad looking old men. He doesn't want to join them yet, but he isn't sure what to do about it.

Older women often complain about being invisible. Here all the women seem to be getting on with their lives, while it's the men who feel unnoticed. Gianni's mother (ninetysomething Valeria di Franciscis) plays cards with her friends, drinks champagne and watches the poker channel. Gianni is delighted when her beautiful young assistant (Kristina Cepraga) says she had a dream about him. Until she tells him that in the dream he was her grandfather.

Gianni's wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) doesn't get much attention, but she doesn't seem too bothered. Perhaps she's having her own affair.

His lawyer friend arranges a lunch with a couple of clients, very attractive blonde twins. He claims that Gianni is the owner of a vineyard and a boat, but it all comes to nothing and the men are left with a very large bill.

Despite spending his pension on an expensive suit and struggling to take some exercise, Gianni just doesn't have any success and it seems unlikely that he will ever bridge the enormous gap between his fantasies and real life.

The film is set in Trastevere, the district of Rome where di Gregorio was born and raised. He says it was an instinctive choice to set the film there, the place he knows so well. “My starting point is that I love my films to be close to reality.” For this reason he also uses the real names of his actors for their characters and as a director he allows the actors some improvisation. Valeria, playing the mother, claims to use her own words, and there is a very natural feel to the mother-son relationship.

This is a gentle comedy which probably won't make you laugh out loud, but it is full of rich visual detail that will make you smile. There is also a deep vein of melancholy here. Gianni is trapped in his solitude and frustration as much as any Mike Leigh character. As a director, di Gregorio seems to share the British master's understanding of domestic life, and one feels he still has a lot more to offer, on the subject of ageing especially.

When asked what he most fears about ageing, he says “The passing of that hope of love, of that idea that something still could happen.” In The Salt of Life, it is the friend Alfonso who voices this fear wistfully, “Può succedere.” “It could happen...”

Reviewed on: 05 Aug 2011
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A pensioner who had settled into a quiet life decides it's not too late to go looking for love.
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Director: Gianni Di Gregorio

Writer: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valerio Attanasio

Starring: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis, Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli

Year: 2011

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Italy

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If you like this, try:

Mid-August Lunch