The Salt of Life
Original title or aka: Gianni e le donne
Starring: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis,Alfonso Santagata
Distributor: Rialto Films
Runtime: 89 mins. Reviewed in Dec 2011
This light-hearted, leisurely-paced Italian comedy tells the story of a good natured husband (Gianni Di Gregorio) at the beck and call of his family, particularly his aged mother, Valeria (Valeria de Franciscis), who has dominated him all his life. She is a 95-year old card-playing alcoholic, who is selfish as well as a spend-thrift, and Gianni has no legal power to restrain her excesses. His financial affairs are in trouble, and he breaks out in a mid-life crisis to try to surround himself with beautiful young women. He wants to feel young again, but knows he isn’t, and finds it hard to look the part. He lives in premature retirement with his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) and daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio), but finds that too much of his time is spent doing things for them and his mother. Life is not bringing him a great deal of contentment. He is goaded by his best friend, Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata), to take a mistress, but doesn’t. He engages in a lot of wishful thinking, and impulsive action, but nothing much happens. No matter what he does, he seems to be ignored by the opposite sex.
He has difficulty coping with the attractive young neighbour, who lives in his apartment building, and the bevy of other beautiful women, who cross his path in life. All this happens, while Valeria’s extravagant life-style eats away at his inheritance. Everyone likes him, but he thinks nobody cares very deeply about him. He is a kind, decent person, and he is frustrated that most people treat him that way.
Like all good farce, the film exposes us to a variety of comic situations, which highlight the weaknesses of the main character, and the eccentricities of those, who expose his vulnerability. His daughter eats the breakfast he has prepared for himself, and his wife gives him a daily shopping list before she goes to work, and doesn’t remember the chores he has already done.The issues of ageing and restless yearnings are present, but handled with a compassionate touch. However, the film loses something of its impact after a time, as Gianni’s personal inadequacies lead to the same predictable outcomes.
There is an indulgent film lurking behind this comedy. It reinforces stereotypes about the Italian male, yet makes more than a passing reference to those same stereotypes being not really appropriate to an ageing man, who looks and behaves in too young a way. The cliches about amorous males, and sexy females, come thick and fast, but despite its inconsistencies, the film maintains its charm, and excellent photography depicts Rome and its outskirts very attractively.
This is a comedy that offers some thought provoking reflections about growing old, maturing discontent, and sexual unrest. It makes you smile, but also at times laugh a little as some comic situations launch themselves into the absurd. One such situation is where Gianni is goaded by Alfonso, with the help of a watering can, to visit a nearby brothel. He tries to find it, but, true to character, he loses his way.
A very interesting feature of the movie is that the actors in it impersonate themselves, and use their real names, highlighting the reality of the comic roles they choose to portray.
As a gentle comedy about a personable Italian male in mid-life crisis, who doesn’t really want to grow old too gracefully, there is much in this film to quietly enjoy.
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