Salt of Life film.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you’re looking for a movie to see this summer and you’re interested in
computer-generated images, special effects and super heroes blowing up cars,
you’re in luck. If you’d like to see a movie about actual human beings with
problems you might relate to, it’s not so easy. While American filmmakers have
pretty much abandoned small-scale personal dramas (except for a handful of indie
films, which tend to be made by and about 20-somethings), European, Latin
American and Asian filmmakers continue to embrace simpler
Actor/director Gianni Di Gregorio’s The Salt of Life, which just
opened throughout Israel, is a good example of this type of film.
Gregorio spent years acting, mostly on stage, and he has a clown’s face and a
comic’s look of relaxation on screen, although he doesn’t only play
He had an international success with his film Mid-August Lunch
(2008), in which he stars as an idle man who lives with his elderly mother, then
ends up spending August caring for her and all her friends in order to pay off
In some ways, Salt of Life
is an underpopulated retread of
Mid- August Lunch. Once again, Di Gregorio plays a character named Gianni, a
passive, genial man in Rome who is dominated by his mother. In this film, as
well as in Mid-August, this central character is played by Valeria De
This actress, who is actually 95 years old (and was never a
professional actress before), is utterly believable as a woman who is
comfortable in her position at the center of her son’s life. She is both
heedlessly demanding and manipulative but frightened of her own vulnerability
The movie is most vivid when she and her card-playing
friends are on screen, ordering around Gianni and eating lavish
The story, such as it is, is about how Gianni chafes at his
subservience to her and tries, with very limited success, to regain control of
his own life. He is an early retiree who has used up his pension buying things
for her and keeping his own life in order. He doesn’t have much left to help his
daughter, a young student with few prospects and a boyfriend who is similarly
hopeless about the future. His wife is barely a presence in this film at all,
and he spends much of his time trying to find a way to cheat on her. But he’s no
Berlusconi – he is attracted to beautiful but very independent women, and his
hangdog look wins smiles from them but little else. His unexpressed terror at
growing old gives the film its strongest moments.
There is a kind and
gentle but distinctly political subtext here, which grows more relevant every
day as European economic woes top the international headlines.
stopped work early, but now he doesn’t have much to do with his free time but
wait on his mother. His mother enjoyed a lifestyle that she has bankrupted
herself and her son to maintain, but Gianni’s daughter doesn’t even dream about
living like this. All she hopes is that she will pass her exams and get a job.
Gianni feels increasingly unimportant in his own life.
For all its gentle
charm, the movie is undeniably slow, and many viewers will not have patience for
it. It’s 90 minutes but feels longer. It’s hard not to get frustrated with
Gianni at times, as he sometimes slips into a caricature of a passive, impotent
Di Gregorio gives it all a great deal of charm, but the vitality of
the women from Mid-August Lunch is needed here to balance his lowkey presence.
While some will enjoy the travelogue aspect – this film can be viewed as a peek
into a vanishing Rome – others will find the film a frustrating
But Di Gregorio, who directed his first film in his late 50s,
is a director to watch.