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The Salt of Life (Gianni e le donne) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
11 08 2011

ImageDirected by Gianni di Gregorio

Gianni di Gregorio's debut feature Pranzo di Ferragosto two years ago was such a perfect little jewel of a film that you can't help approaching his second with some qualms. Can it be as good? Well, not quite, but it certainly has a lot more to it than the wacky ‘middle-aged bloke- sexy lasses' poster and trailer seem to promise. Di Gregorio once again plays his own leading man, a variation on his Pranzo character, this time living in a celibate marriage, still strapped for cash, still, blessedly, responsible for his over-spending mother, again played by the splendid 96-year-old Valeria de Franciscis.

Job gone, youth gone, Gianni is seeing his power over his own life is going too, not helped when his would-be Lothario friend Alfi makes him feel he's the only bloke in the world not getting sex any more. Why, even Maurizio who sits by the downstairs bar in his tracksuit talking football all day with the other old codgers is having it off with the woman from the cornershop. Meanwhile all Gianni's good for is fetching curtains from Ikea for his working wife, making breakfast for his daughter and her layabout boyfriend, serving lunch and champagne to his mother's card-school coven or walking the dog for the young woman in the downstairs flat. Just as Pranzo dealt with the angst of the sole middle-aged son looking after a parent, here another particularly Italian preoccupation is served up with wry humour for scrutiny - the great reversal over the last couple of generations in the power distribution between men and women - painful, to say the least, for a macho culture. But it's also about the coming-invisibilty of middle-age and the quiet panic that it can bring.

It's hard not to compare Di Gregorio, writer, director, leading actor, with Woody Allen in his self-deprecating portrayal of a loser, but he succeeds where Allen increasingly doesn't by avoiding the kind of double-bluff Allen continually tries for and fails to pull off - that we're meant to see him in some mysterious way sexy and attractive to women despite it all. Sweaty and uncertain, pulling disconsolately at the bags under his eyes in the mirror, di Gregorio sees the reality of middle age, knows his place. The irony that he is actually more attractive than either Maurizio or Alfi is lost on him.

Charming, funny, and at times moving, and still, thankfully, illuminated by the presence of batch of frighteningly despotic and imperturbable old ladies, it manages to stay thoughtful even in its most farcical moments, showing the quiet desperation that can co-exist with the absurd. And if all the future holds is walking the dog and squinting at the sun through the summer leaves, well, there are worse things.

Seen at Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, 8 August 2011

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