The Salt of Life was released in Italy as Gianni e le Donne, which translates as ‘Gianni and Women’. The less allusive Italian title gives a clearer idea of the film: middle aged Gianni and his women troubles, which aren’t of the usual ‘ladies man’ variety.
This gentle-but-with-a-bite comedy is set in the tranquil Trastavere district of Rome, an area of dappled streets, secluded gardens and old fellas sitting on plastic chairs as they watch the world pass by. The old farts in question are Gianni’s neighbours and he’s noticed that one of them has a much younger girlfriend who works in a shop round the corner.
Gianni himself lives in an apartment with his wife and university student daughter, although his mama, the terrifyingly coiffed Valeria di Franciscis Bendoni seems to be quite comfortable to call him over at any time of day or night to run errands for her. Mama has a rather buxom home help, Valeria, and downstairs his neighbour is comely and friendly. Gianni is surrounded by women, under-appreciated by those at home and in thrall to the looks of the rest.
As well as taking the lead role, the film was written and directed by Gianni di Gregorio, who made the comedy Mid-August Lunch in 2009 and contributed to the script of the bloody Mafia movie Gomorrah. Di Gregorio describes film as about “the confusion of a middle-aged man who realises that women do not look at him like they used to”. For Gianni (the character), everything might have been all right had his friend Alfonso not told him he should get a lover.
Once Gianni gets this idea into his head, he is helpless in front of the parade of lovely womanhood that troops through his life. He already drinks and smokes too much, but then he’s tied to the mast while the sirens chorus temptingly all around. As Alfonso puts it, “she’s a beauty. Sometimes beauty overwhelms you.” Like Leonard Cohen, Gianni came so far for beauty, but sadly that’s as far as it goes.
One wondered if the film would have been quite the same without Di Gregorioi’s hang dog, weathered face, which he uses to great effect. Gianni’s meandering tale is amusing, but with a melancholy undertow too. He is a sort of anti-Berlusconi and that’s no bad thing.