Fanciful Salt a Vivaciously Melancholic Life Lesson
Gianni (writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio, Mid-August Lunch) is a bit lost. His elderly mother (Valeria De Franciscis) is bleeding his finances dry, his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) is more a friend then she is a romantic partner, his doting daughter Teresa (Teresa Di Gregorio) listens to his advice but rarely heeds it and his best friend and lawyer Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) urges him to break out of his shell and have an affair. Amidst the sun-drenched stones of his hometown Trastevere the middle-aged retiree isn’t sure whose advice to follow, instead choosing to walk his dog and daydream of delights he’s too timidly good-natured to take a chance on.
As much as I adored Di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch I can’t say I was equally thrilled with his no-sex sex comedy follow-up The Salt of Life (Gianni e le Donne). While the movie has its pleasures, while it is filled with some dexterously amusing sights that had me quietly grinning like a Cheshire Cat, on the whole this one left me a little cold at times, Gianni’s narrative destination nowhere near as interesting as hoped it was going to be.
Still, I love how the director isn’t afraid to let actions speak for themselves, that he embraces the absurdist tranquility of a scene and doesn’t embellish it with anything unnecessary. The authenticity of his script and subsequently his characters is never a question. More than that, the themes he presents are universal, all of them speaking to deeper truths that are much broader than their Italian origins. Gianni’s path is recognizable no matter what the viewer’s age, relating to him and his problems far easier than I initially anticipated they were going to be.
There were times here where Di Gregorio’s relaxed pace worked against the material. The movie has trouble maintaining momentum as it becomes a series of vignettes instead of a fully-formed cinematic experience. While never boring, there were portions where I had trouble staying interested in what was going on, and for a second I started to think the magic that so effortlessly developed in his previous film wasn’t going to materialize here as well.
But then he hit me with scenes involving Gianni and an old flame, ones with his lawyer and two sexy identical twins, another with his daughter’s slacker boyfriend and then an additional one with his gorgeous next-door neighbor during a rather raucous party, all of which crystallized the filmmaker’s ideas about maturity, aging and sexuality with hysterical clarity. He also ends things on a divine, exuberantly plaintive note, the last scene an essential flight of fancy that’s as winsomely serene in its childishness as it is in its triumphant melancholia. It’s the perfect coda to Gianni’s journey, leaving things joyously up in the air as it also cements them in a forlornly hardened inevitability.
I’m not doing the same cartwheels for The Salt of Life as I did for Mid-August Lunch, and that’s perfectly okay. The simple universality of the truths that Di Gregorio lays bare are marvelous, and the way his film embraces them with such rhapsodic woe is divine. This comedy-drama may take some effort to get into but by the time the climax rolls around it becomes impossible to dislike, and I imagine on subsequent viewings this is the type of innately human journey that could grow on me to the point it becomes an essential one to take on a semi-regular basis.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)