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Salt of Life, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Little other flavor."
3 stars

"The Salt of Life" is the title given to this movie for it's American release; the actual title translates to "Gianni and the Women", which is kind of literal but less pretentious, which might have been preferable. "The Salt of Life" implies that some sort of wisdom or philosophy will be imparted, but in reality, the audience must settle for a few decent anecdotes.

Gianni (Ginni Di Gregorio) is about sixty, and having taken early retirement ten years ago, is relatively free to spend his days in Rome doing not much of anything. Often, this means tending to his spendthrift mother (Valeria De Franciscis). He and his wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) sleep in separate beds, and though his daughter Teresa (Teresa Di Gregorio) still lives at home, he spends more time with her boyfriend Michi (Michelangelo Ciminale). After his friend and lawyer Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) gets a look at Cristina (Kristina Cepraga), the pretty nurse Gianni's mother overpays and underutilizes, he tells Gianni that he really should be getting some of that on the side - even that old guy who hangs out at the café in a tracksuit has a mistress! - but truth be told, it barely occurs to Gianni to do more with his sexy and potentially-receptive neighbor Aylin (Aylin Prandi) than offer to walk her dog.

That, it seems, is Gianni's problem in a nutshell - he has no ambition whatsoever. Set aside the questionable aspects of married men looking for younger lovers; it's apparently part of the Italian culture and because guys like Gianni and Alfonso trying to score mistresses could be a pretty funny movie. Gianni's efforts in that direction are half-hearted, though, and while that could also be the basis of a good movie ("man discovers age and maturity suit him"), he's got to do something. Or even do nothing, if the apathy said something about him. Instead, he just sort of floats along, until co-writer/director/star Gianni Di Gregorio tries to show some sort of frustration at women ignoring him or taking him for granted at the end, but by that point such emotions seem out of character.

For as much as Di Gregorio and co-writer Valerio Attanasio fail to give the story or characters any sort of arc or progression, the movie does have its fair share of enjoyable moments. The opening bit with Gianni and Alfonso trying to get a bit of legal business done with Gianni's mother has a bit of tang to it, and the last few moments are broad and funny enough that they perhaps should have set the tone for the entire movie rather than been a welcome jarring note at the end. They make Rome a perfect backdrop for this sort of story, a languid place where nobody aside from Gianni's wife seems to work and it's easy to drift between metropolitan sophistication and a tight-knit community. Di Gregorio and Attanasio do well with small bits of observational humor; The Salt of Life is at its best when a scene ends with with Gianni giving a silent, bemused look at no-one in particular.

Gianni Di Gregorio may have miscast himself as the film's leading man; when Alfonso Santagata is around, he can act as a straight man, and he fills that role quite well (with Santagata just as impressive as the would-be scoundrel). Di Gregorio certainly has charm as his namesake, and the sheer number of other characters who share their names with their portrayers suggests that most were tailor-made. Whether that's true or not, every actor slips into his or her part very well indeed, showing good chemistry all around.

Indeed, they're charming enough all around to make "The Salt of Life" a pleasant enough late-life-crisis or coming-of-old-age movie. Not one with a lot of depth to it or which holds together particularly well in retrospect, but enjoyable enough while one is watching it.

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originally posted: 02/09/12 15:37:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Berlin International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 15th Annual European Union Film Festival For more in the 15th Annual European Union Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Dallas International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Dallas International Film Festival series, click here.

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