Published Apr 05, 2012Gianni (Gianni Di Gregorio) is 60 years old, healthy, bright and handsome. He is aged, but not elderly, still earning a few smiles from younger women. He has a wife and daughter, but with them followed staid domestic bliss and the girl's slacker boyfriend, Michelangelo (Michelangelo Ciminale), apparently living in his house. He asks Michelangelo what the young man dreams of doing for a career. "Music" is his answer. By that he means he wants to throw parties and put on music.
Gianni has a comfortable life, but so what? Comfort isn't very exciting. Retired early at 50, he's spent the last decade doing nothing much in particular. His mother (Valeria De Franciscis) uses him as an errand boy, but if she didn't, he would have even less to do. His closest friend, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), encourages him to take a mistress, though by seeing women as companions with real personalities Gianni has a problem most of his fellow men don't.
It's rare to watch a movie about such a good person. Movies about great people are common, those about horrible people even more so, but characters that are simply good, imperfect types who try their best but face obstacles that may not be overcome in 90 minutes are more unusual. Gianni doesn't bemoan his situation – the most sorrow we get from him comes from examining his sagging face in the mirror. With that he earns respect, if not love; he's so selfless that it's hard to tell which he would prefer.
You may note all these characters are named for their actors. This initially seems strange; the real Gianni Di Gregorio is a successful filmmaker who also co-wrote excellent crime film Gomorrah (2008). It's doubtful he has the same troubles as his onscreen surrogate. And yet for a comedy involving sex, The Salt of Life is oddly realistic; it follows a patient, thoughtful rhythm and never reaches for a laugh. It acknowledges the sadness in Gianni's life that hangs over the potentially farcical plot like an invisible rain cloud. If it makes you laugh, it will be the laughter of recognition.
A common response from screenwriters who reheat old ideas is: "Every story has been told." But you may not have heard a story like Gianni's. As a character, he's too old for a midlife crisis and too young to worry about mortality. With that it may take a while for viewers to figure out why they should pay attention. Because it makes no grand statements, The Salt of Life feels low-key, more amusing than funny.
But it's ultimately a moving story about the kinds of men not often seen on the big screen. (Mongrel Media)