By Don Simpson | December 5, 2011
Director: Gianni Di Gregorio
Writers: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valerio Attanasio
Starring: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni, Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Aylin Prandi, Kristina Cepraga, Michelangelo Ciminale, Teresa Di Gregorio, Lilia Silvi, Gabriella Sborgi
Like Mid-August Lunch, The Salt of Life is set in writer/director/star Gianni Di Gregorio’s native Trastevere, a working-class district in Rome; and once again he plays Gianni, a dutiful middle-aged son to an aged mother, Valeria (Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni). Gianni’s poker-playing and Krug-swilling mother resides in an extravagant house with a statuesque Romanian caretaker (Kristina Cepraga) whom Valeria showers with lofty wages and designer clothes. Gianni is always at his mother’s beck and call — she becks and calls quite often — even though Valeria refuses to help her 60-year old pensioner son out financially. Unfortunately for Gianni, the law regards his 96-year-old mother as compos mentis and will not give him the power of attorney to restrain her spending; instead Gianni is stuck watching his mother steadily diminish his inheritance through her wasteful and extravagant ways.
Gianni lives with his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) — with whom he has presumably not shared a bed in years — and his daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio) and her slacker boyfriend (Michelangelo Ciminale). With little to do, and a meager pension to do it with, the Gianni does his best to tend to the household chores. He is a kind, decent, and thoughtful man — in fact, he remind me a lot of Jacques Tati’s iconic Mr. Hulot — who has a loving penchant for cigarettes and white wine.
At the heart of the narrative is a humble tale of a 60-year old man’s feelings of sexual discontent and unrest. Gianni’s best friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) firmly believes that every middle-aged man should enjoy the company of a much younger mistress and it is Alfonso who urges Gianni to pursue a series of awkward and halfhearted attempts at love affairs with a variety of younger women. Thankfully Gianni is a romantic at heart and there is not a trace of lechery within him.
Like Mid-August Lunch, The Salt of Life is a studious commentary on unemployment, social class, and aging, all the while adding a frank discussion on the sexual pursuits of middle-aged men. For whatever reason, older Italian men seem to be known — via the cinema at least — for their preference of much younger women, and Di Gregorio cleverly plays with that belief. With Di Gregorio in the leading role, The Salt of Life also functions as a commentary on predatory filmmakers — you know, the ones who cast themselves (seemingly out of wish fulfillment) in romantic roles alongside beautiful, young women.
Also like Mid-August Lunch, The Salt of Life features guerrilla-style lensing, utilizing only natural light. As I wrote in my review of Mid-August Lunch, Di Gregorio is single-handedly resurrecting the Italian cinematic tradition of Neo-Realism of De Sica, Fellini, Rossellini and Visconti. Both of Di Gregorio’s films are supreme feats of minimalist cinema.
Very few Hollywood films have dealt so honestly and forwardly with aging as Mid-August Lunch and The Salt of Life. Other than a seemingly haphazard conclusion that is accentuated by a very odd placement of The Pixies “Here Comes Your Man”, The Salt of Life is a significantly more advanced film than Mid-August Lunch, which says a lot since I strongly recommended Mid-August Lunch to a lot of people last year.