The Salt of LIfe
by Daniel Engelke
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The Salt of Life, or Gianni and the Women as the Italian title suggest, is another view into Italian comedy from Gianni di Gregorio. The actor/writer/director made waves with his screenplay for the international acclaimed Gomorroa and directoral debut Mid-August Lunch in 2008. Unlike the harsh critique of the Naples mafia in Gomorra, Gianni’s comedies remind viewers of the charm that has been long lost in Italian cinema.
Gianni is 60 years old and retired. He does all the housework and remains on call for his aging mother. Until now, Gianni had never realized that he is more of a maid than a person to his family. Encouraged by Alfonso, his lawyer and friend, Gianni plans to add some excitement in his life by having an affair.
Despite being surrounded by beautiful women and past romances, Gianni finds it more difficult than imagined to live out his dream. Known simply as a harmless character, Gianni has a hard time convincing himself of his new Don Juan persona. And an even harder time convincing women.
I tend to find director/writers who place themselves as the central character in their films self-indulgent, but Gianni’s subservient charm to the women arround him is hardly unlikable. We find it hard not to feel bad for Gianni, but in no way do we feel pity for the potential cheating husband. The constant birage of negative influences from men and women could be easily fixed if he only located his backbone. But admittingly it’s very entertaining to watch.
Typical to European cinema, The Salt of Life uses professional and non-actors. As you can expect, this decision usually comes with mixed results. For example, Michelangelo Ciminale, debuting as the boyfriend of Gianni’s daughter, achieves comic success with his lazy demeanor and lack of ambition. On the other hand, Elisabetta Piccolomini, the wife of Gianni and known actress, is too understated to make an impact on the film.
On the whole, Gianni uses his cast well-especially with the reprisal of Valeria de Franciscis as his mother. Valeria continues his splendid performance from Mid-August Lunch in Salt of Life to great approval. It’s amazing to see an actress of her age perform so comically. I had trouble containing my laughter in the theater every time she was on screen.
If the enjoyable cast doesn’t get you through the hour and a half, the Roman atmosphere surely will. Much like the cinema of other Italian contemporaries Ferznan Ozpetak (Loose Cannons) and Matteo Garrone (Gomorra), Gianni uses Rome to accent his films. A trait that only encapsulates us more in “the Italian way of things”.
Where The Salt of Life works best is to remind us of the inherent charm to Italian cinema. The film’s web of character’s are all in on the joke of Gianni’s character, but that doesn’t make them unlikable. As the film progresses, we realize that it’s less where Gianni is headed with his fantasy, but more how his journey to get there.
Daniel Engelke works as a freelance writer and director in New York City. He graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts in Film. He specializes in Italian Neo-Realism as well as French & German New Wave. He also writes at the literary blog Living with LIterature: livingwithliteraturee.wordpress.com
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