The Salt of Life (Gianni e le Donne)
Warm and sincere bittersweet comedy with loose, naturalistic style
Rome-born Gianni Di Gregorio is one of Italian cinema’s late starters. Having studied acting as a young man, he spent many years working as assistant director and screenwriter before beginning a fruitful collaboration with young Neapolitan director Matteo Garrone culminating in the hard-hitting crime drama Gomorrah in 2008. That same year, Di Gregorio made Mid-August Lunch, his first film as writer/director, a low budget comedy about a middle-aged man (played by Di Gregorio himself) looking after his 93 year-old mother and three of her friends on a sweltering day in August.
That film’s follow-up – The Salt of Life – is moderately wider in scope but retains its predecessor’s loose, naturalistic style. It focuses on Gianni’s anxieties about ageing and his relationships with a variety of women including his wife, his daughter, a party-girl neighbour, old flames, as well as the force of nature that is his mother. Played once again by the wonderful Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni, Donna Valeria is seen frittering away her son’s inheritance (expensive champagne, designer clothes for her maid, organising poker tournaments) while he struggles on a basic pension. The central problem for Gianni, however, remains his own crisis of confidence – the simple fact that that women don’t seem to be interested in him anymore. Spurred on by his lawyer friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata – also returning from Mid-August Lunch), he decides to take action by getting fit and changing his image.
As with the director’s previous film, The Salt of Life is unashamedly autobiographical. Di Gregorio pokes fun at his own insecurities, providing an image of the older Italian male that is in many ways the antithesis of Berlusconi. It’s a film of great warmth and sincerity, a bittersweet comedy that consolidates Italian cinema’s recent revival.
GFT, Glasgow and Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Fri 12–Thu 25 Aug.