To me a great film, if it isn’t tragic, means delighting in characters’ company for ninety-plus minutes. That’s what The Salt of Life is. Gianni Di Gregorio, the writer-director-star, has followed his Mid August Lunch (2008) with this charmer about a middle-aged retiree seeking an affair. Assuming you can accept the film’s levity toward his quest for light infidelity, it’s a pleasure to join this world.
As Gianni endures failed after failed attempt to find a young female lover, we enjoy getting to know him and his family, his would-be conquests: his mother’s buxom caregiver, his busty family friend, his curvy ex, his slender neighbour. And we’re privy to aspects of Italy, middle-aged manhood, marriage, and Italian mothers. His journey is really about itself, more than the pursued outcome (like being in Italy generally?). As the film’s title hints, flavour comes even from the striving, the imagining, the endeavour itself. Even grasping at an affair is the stuff of intrigue — and films.
Gianni is invisible to younger people, or invisible in the ways he desires: the beloved-grandfather type. Those who do engage him include his wolf-crying mother, a tie-and-jacketed retiree with a toy poodle, his perpetual-bachelor friend Alfo(nso), who in the film’s funniest scene forces “the pill of love’” on Gianni. But let me say, if his mother’s “simple lunches” and leafy house and technicolour wardrobe are anything close to the Roman norm, book me a one-way flight prontissimo.
Most of my favourite films are pleasant testaments to everyday life, and The Salt of Life fits this bill. Gianni’s daughter’s on-again boyfriend Michi (Michelangelo) has resigned to not finding work with his arts degree; even law and economics graduates are struggling. Only one character doesn’t dress dashingly, but each of his tracksuits does match. Everyone eats well (though much wheat). Gianni and his wife sleep in separate bedrooms, and quarrel over going to Ikea for curtains. And we see, through the fun-loving twins whom Gianni and Alfo fail to court over wine-y lunch, that both generations eschew monogamy with gusto. Marriage as such hasn’t dissolved, but rather the façade of commitment.
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