Both mirthful and melancholic, filmmaker Gianni Di Gregorio’s The Salt of Life takes a smart, moving look at that moment in a person’s life when they realize they’ve passed their expiration date. Di Gregorio maintains the low-key, slice-of-life style that characterized this movie’s predecessor, Mid-August Lunch (2008), and delivers a worthy follow-up.
The actor director reprises his role of hapless Gianni, retconned into living with his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) and college-age daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio, the director’s daughter), and caring for his elderly mother (Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni). Now entering his 60s, Gianni is staring to feel invisible to the world around him — especially to the women who no longer seem to notice. His possessive mother serves champagne to her friends while Gianni pays her rent from his meager pension, his wife is affectionate but distant, and his daughter is directionless and self-absorbed. Gianni’s only substantial interpersonal relationship is with his daughter’s boyfriend (Michelangelo Ciminale), who doesn’t know he’s on the verge of being dumped. (Perennial nice-guy Gianni doesn’t have the heart to tell him.)
Gianni follows the advice of his friend and attorney, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), and decides to have an affair (even though Alfonso is made miserable by his own extramarital pursuits of younger women). There are plenty of possibilities for Gianni, few of them truly viable: his mother’s attractive caregiver (Kristina Cepraga), whom he reminds of her grandfather; an ex-girlfriend (Valeria Cavalli), who falls asleep in his presence; the daughter of a friend uses him to make her vocal coach jealous; a downstairs neighbor (Aylin Prandi), who flirts with him whenever he comes by to walk her dog.
An established screenwriter who made his directing debut with Mid-August Lunch, Di Gregorio infused both movies with wit and charm, though this time he stumbles a bit with a borderline farcical climax involving Viagra and a fruitless search for a bordello, an unnecessarily breezy attempt to balance out Salt of Life‘s bittersweet undertone. That’s a minor quibble, as Di Gregorio imbues a wry, gentle sense of humor as he spins his tale of male menopause that never demands that we feel sorry for Gianni — though it’s hard not to. He may be a desperate buffoon, but trying impotently to find romance in the heart of Italy is a fresh hell indeed.