Wednesday, 31 August 2011

'The Salt of Life' review:

A follow-up to the delightful Italian 2008 comedy 'Mid-August Lunch', 'The Salt of Life' finds middle-aged Gianni - played by writer-director Gianni Di Gregorio - again struggling to juggle his own life with caring for his demanding 95 year-old mother (Valeria De Franciscis). Di Gregorio again populates his cast with a mix of professionals and non-actors, whilst Gian Enrico Bianchi continues to capture Rome as the eternally sunny and effortlessly charming place of Mediterranean idyll.

But whilst last time Gianni was unmarried, living in a Rome apartment with his mother, this semi-sequel sees the elderly scamp frittering away his inheritance in a gated mansion with hired help, whilst he resides with a wife and a moody teenage daughter, Teresa (played by his real-life daughter of the same name). And rather than revolving around his catering for a group of bickering old ladies, this equally gentle and bittersweet comedy takes a look at mid-life crisis as Gianni ponders his fading relevance in the eyes of the opposite sex and increasing feeling of disconnect from the younger generation - as typified by Teresa's aimless live in boyfriend Michi (Michelangelo Ciminale).

Determined not to become one of the weird old characters he sees discussing football sitting out on the pavement or walking their dog alone in the park, Gianni pursues a number of the beautiful women in his life: among then an affectionate, spirited neighbour; a former flame; and a recently divorced opera singer. Being an Italian film, whether or not Gianni succeeds in having an extra-marital affair with one of these gorgeous, buxom women is not a pressing moral concern (his daughter even jokes about it), instead it forms the basis of a touching and, in the true sense of the word, pathetic portrayal of desperation, mortality and our common need to be desired.

With its star a screenwriter by trade - the scribe of no less than the hard-hitting modern mafia classic 'Gamorrah' - and with his adoption of a loose autobiographical persona, Di Gregorio's movies to date feel something like an Italian version of Larry David's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'. Which is not to say they revolve around the comedy of social awkwardness and pedantry, but that on show is a low-key, mundane sort of humour with Gianni very much the butt of life's joke. Yet for all it's poignancy it shares with its predecessor a breezy and joyful spirit that can't help but put a smile on your face.

'The Salt of Life' is on limited release in the UK and is rated '12A' by the BBFC.

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