ByTowne ByTowne Cinema
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From the director and star of "Mid-August Lunch"
Gianni, the gentle mama’s boy and alter ego of Gianni Di Gregorio, the 63-year-old director and star of the wistful Italian comedy The Salt Of Life, is every man who reaches a certain age and feels his vitality waning. Gazing into the mirror, he notices the heavy bags under his eyes and his sagging chin and is seized with a longing for his lost youth.
Everywhere he goes Gianni passes beautiful, younger women to whom he is next to invisible. Gogò Bianchi’s cinematography, which observes the women through Gianni’s adoring eyes, portrays them as voluptuous, carefree goddesses tossing their hair and flashing confident smiles as they strut in low-cut dresses. While watching The Salt Of Life you may be as intoxicated with them as Gianni and decide that there is no creature on earth more alluring than a Roman woman in her prime.
This movie is a richer variation of his small, exquisite 2010 film, Mid-August Lunch. The extraordinary Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni (now 96), who played his mother in that film returns here as an even more imposing matriarch.
Elegantly coiffed and attired in flowing, brightly colored silks, she is a sight to behold. A fragile but still commanding diva, whether playing poker with her friends on the lawn of her luxurious home or ordering a meal, she insists on getting her imperious way. Her deeply tanned, weathered face with its thousand little creases is a contour map of a long life.
Gianni, who retired at 50, lives in an apartment with an extended family that includes his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini), with whom he has a platonic friendship; his daughter (played by Teresa Di Gregorio, the director’s real-life daughter); and her unemployed slacker boyfriend Michelangelo (Michelangelo Ciminale), who happily tools around Rome on his motorbike and doesn’t lift a finger.
Gianni’s mother, a heedless spendthrift, squanders money on designer clothes for her full-time caretaker, Cristina (Kristina Cepraga) – one of the many women Gianni discreetly ogles – and stocks her refrigerator with expensive Champagne. She has nearly bankrupted her dutiful son and pesters him on the telephone at all hours.
Gianni is too polite and inhibited to put the moves on women, which his coarser best friend, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), a lawyer, does without compunction. Alfonso points out a neighborhood acquaintance Gianni’s age who has a younger lover, forces medication on Gianni to treat erectile dysfunction, and even gives him the name and address of a brothel. But when pushed into action Gianni is foiled by comic mishaps, one of which involves drinking an aperitif spiked with a psychedelic drug that sends him reeling. In the most touching scene he visits Valeria (Valeria Cavalli), a long-ago lover who sweetly suggests that his ties to his mother are the reason they never married.
Most of all you are thankful for what The Salt Of Life is not: another farce in which a lecherous codger makes a fool of himself over a babe. Only in the final minute does it succumb to sentimentality. Until then the movie sympathetically bears out the observation in Yeats’s poem 'After Long Silence' that ‘bodily decrepitude is wisdom.’
– Steven Holden, The New York Times
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