Retiree and house husband Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) has many things to worry about, doing boring chores for his wife, mother, daughter and pretty neighbour but romance is not one of them. One day his old friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), inspired by his own surprising sexual escapades, decides it's time for Gianni to get a girlfriend and reqcquaint himself with some of life's pleasures.
There’s a quiet outrage always bubbling under the surface in The Salt of Life, a very likeable comedy drama set in Trastevere, Italy, about getting old and learning to love it, from actor/director Gianni Di Gregorio. It’s a movie about someone who is not quite bullied and 'put-upon’ but thinks they are; and their frustration beats them up and gets them down.
In the very first scene, Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) is, in effect, trying to get rid of his mother (legally, that is) by attaining control of her estate (and get her off to a nursing home). A fit and healthy 60-something, with the lugubrious lovability of an over-sized house-pet, Gianni, unemployed, yearns for the sweet things and takes for granted the good life he’s got; he shares a nice looking apartment with his all but grown-up daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio), who is fond of him, and a kind wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini), though it soon becomes clear that their sex life died a long time ago. His greatest burden, Gianni believes, in his sprightly Mama (a very funny Valeria De Franciscis). A wealthy widow who spoils herself and her friends, she puts constant pressure on Gianni by prevailing upon his obligations as a son, in asking him to perform a constant string of very trivial errands and all the while refusing to indulge him financially.
After his attempted legal ambush against his mum fails, Gianni’s lawyer/best pal Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) offers up a kind of spiritual panacea for Gianni’s woes; he suggests that what Gianna really needs is a girlfriend.
Of course, all of this seems a wry, clever and satirical variation on a conventional wisdom that suggests that sex is an answer to the blues; getting laid may not solve one’s problems, but those proverbial few brief moments of pleasure can make life seem better.
Still, the pursuit of women becomes Gianni’s problem; as the film unwinds in a series of rather funny (though not cute) vignettes, Gianni learns the hard way that he is no longer a sexual contender (even to women of his own generation). His poignant self-assessment is that, when it comes to women, he is 'transparent".
Di Gregorio and co-screenwriter Valerio Attanasio line up a short list of inappropriate romantic impossibilities for Gianni to fail with: there’s the pretty twentysomething girl next door Aylin (Aylin Prandi) and his Mama’s thirtysomething maid (Kristina Cepraga) who reminds him of her grandfather. In one of the film’s best set-pieces, Alfonso lines up a blind date with a pair of fortysomething 'players’ – who have no intention of doing anything more than flirting.
Using real locations and an unfussy 'you-are-there’ visual style, The Salt of Life has an immediacy that’s bracing and sympathetic. (The acting also has that unaffected, lived in quality, where you get the feeling that the actors are playing a variation on themselves, which is suggested by the fact that most of them share the character’s names.)
What’s interesting here is Di Gregorio’s tone; there’s nothing predatory, mean-spirited or even lusty about the director’s alter-ego and romantic pursuits – he’s all heart.
Gianni is doomed to fail, but the comedy is not quite on the attack; we always get the feeling that our hapless hero is laughing on the inside. Late in the film, at the urgings of Alfonso, Gianni takes some Viagra and washes it down with a swig from a watering can"¦ there’s a delicious beat that captures the 'this is really stupid" look on Gianni’s face.
Indeed, this is a comedy of such delicate moments and Di Gregorio’s makes his points carefully, with scenes not based on action, but observation and little tics of behavior. Which is to say that the whole film hinges on a irony; Gianni may be crushed by the realisation his masculinity is no longer dependent on his sexual allure but we see that he provides a calm, stabilising and even wise presence in the lives of his family – which includes his daughter’s terminally lazy Gen-Y cool dude boyfriend (a lovely turn from Michelangelo Criminale).
Gianni’s romantic pursuits, though, do not, by movie’s end, leave him wrung out or empty or resolved to be 'the Old Guy’. He finished the movie with a smile. There’s the sneaking suspicion that Alfonso’s suggestion was a bit of wickedness (on his part) but stronger still is the feeling, derived from another of life’s truisms, that romance, even if it's an endless chase, without, um, quite a happy ending, is a life force, without a use-by date.