Tame jokes don’t negate breezy, pleasant vibe in ‘The Salt of Life’

  • Wed Apr 4th, 2012 3:43pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

Gianni Di Gregorio’s 2008 film “Mid-August Lunch” was the kind of out-of-nowhere delight that is all too rare in movies these days, a 76-minute trifle about a 60ish gentleman (played by the director) tending to his mother and a group of elderly ladies.

The movie was screenwriter Di Gregorio’s first trip behind the camera as a director, and it suggested a truly original talent: laid-back, observant, wryly humorous.

His follow-up film is here, and while “The Salt of Life” is not up to the standard of “Mid-August Lunch,” it does have enough casual pleasure to keep you watching.

The hangdog Di Gregorio stars again, as another out-of-sorts Roman named Gianni. Out of work since being laid off at the age of 50, Gianni appears to have resigned himself to being retired, and he puts up with the cheerful neglect of his wife and daughter and the demanding attention from his mother.

She lives in a nice retirement home, but she still calls Gianni if her cable TV goes out. Fans of “Mid-August Lunch” will be glad to know that she is played by Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni, the fierce 96-year-old who played the mother in the previous film.

Gianni’s life appears placid enough until a lawyer friend practically insists Gianni should take a mistress, as a way of reviving his interest in life. And it’s true, Gianni does seem to be surrounded by women; maybe if he bolsters himself with enough white wine, he’ll work up the nerve to make a move.

The Italian title of this movie translates to “Gianni’s Women,” and the title is ironic, because Gianni doesn’t seem to possess a great deal of luck in this department. His half-hearted attempts to be a ladies’ man provide some mild humor.

The fact that Gianni falls so short of being the stereotypical Lothario of Italian movies is part of this film’s charm. Alas, the jokes arranged around this situation are almost exactly what you’d expect: Gianni getting stuck in a yoga position and requiring help to unlock himself, Gianni reluctantly trying Viagra and getting stuck again — and no, what we mean is, he gets stuck in Rome traffic on his way to a possible liaison.

Much more pleasant than these tame gags is everything outside the plot: the breezy mood, the sense of life passing by without structure, the sighing resignation of Gianni’s devotion to his mother.

And there’s a nicely surreal sequence near the end, when Gianni (apparently) ingests a mid-altering drink, and wanders around Rome on a nightlong dog-walking excursion.

I’d like to see what Gianni Di Gregorio does with his next movie. Maybe he could make something entirely without a plot; in this one, the need to tell a story gets in the way.

“The Salt of Life” (3 stars)

From the director-star of “Mid-August Lunch,” Gianni Di Gregorio, comes another look at a 60ish Roman at loose ends; here, he idly contemplates taking a mistress. This pleasant comedy has too many tame jokes that don’t pay off and frankly just get in the way of the wry humor that emerges whenever the movie’s not paying attention to plot. In Italian, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter.

Showing: Seven Gables.