The Salt of Life

"Mid-August Lunch" director Gianni Di Gregorio delivers another intimate comedy marked by spontaneity and ease.

With: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni; Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Alyn Prandi, Kristina Cepraga, Michelangelo Ciminale, Teresa Di Gregorio, Lilia Silvi, Gabriella Sborgi, Laura Squizzato, Silvia Squizzato.

The budget’s slightly bigger and the locations have expanded, but Gianni Di Gregorio’s follow-up to surprise hit “Mid-August Lunch” is another intimate comedy that blows fresh air around a topic long made banal by less sincere helmers. In “The Salt of Life,” Di Gregorio plays a different Gianni (but still a mama’s boy), discovering age hasn’t weakened his eye for beautiful women. Though lacking some of the earlier film’s originality, the pic boasts the same feel for real people, making it stand out in a field of overblown Italo comedies. “Salt” will add a pleasant zing to Stateside arthouse cinemas.

Local B.O. should be strong, with 150 prints rolling out the same day as the Berlin premiere. Biz abroad is also likely to jump thanks to the pic’s merits and the dearth of similar fare; Fandango Portobello presold “Salt” to France, the Benelux countries and Switzerland, with more territories undoubtedly about to sign.

Though Di Gregorio reteams with nonagenarian Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni as his mom, the characters aren’t continuations of those in “Mid-August Lunch.” Gianni is a retiree with a wife (Elisabetta Piccolomini) and daughter (Teresa Di Gregorio, the helmer’s daughter) in a comfortable apartment in Rome, and a mother living in her own luxurious home. With no fixed employment, Gianni’s days should be his own, but his wife is always sending him on errands and his mother calls whenever she needs something (often), despite having a live-in caretaker, Cristina (Kristina Cepraga).

Gianni bemoans his circumstances, tired of everyone (but his wife) telling him he’s a perfect gentleman and almost resigned to merely coasting through life from now on. Lawyer friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) tries to hook them both up with younger women, sparking Gianni’s recollection that a beautiful pair of eyes — and other attributes — can still make his heart skip a beat. But he also knows that at his age, he’s largely invisible to the young except as a helpful neighbor, more uncle material than lover.

The pic’s Italian trailer gives the impression of yet another movie about an old guy getting the babes (think Rodney Dangerfield), but thankfully that’s not what Di Gregorio is going for. There’s a wistfulness here, a gentle self-mockery that realizes that dreams can be delightful but will remain only a fantasy. But just because the bags under the eyes get bigger doesn’t mean the glances themselves are any less flirtatious, or less joyful.

As with “Mid-August Lunch,” Di Gregorio, a longtime scripter and assistant director, doesn’t go for big guffaws, and hardly anything feels pushed. Instead, there’s a naturalness about human interactions and a believability in situations and dialogue. Some may quibble that everyone here is rather well-to-do (though Gianni nevertheless worries about money), and his relationship with his largely absent wife needs development, but the likability factor remains high. Unquestionably the target audience remains an older one, though the pic’s refreshing artlessness could charm a broader crowd.

Di Gregorio’s dialogue and performers are once again marked by a spontaneity and ease; who else working today treats so-called “middle age” with such jocular honesty? Lensing, too, matches the sense of informality: It’s certainly more bigscreen than his previous pic, yet the writer-director-star rarely loses a sense of familial intimacy, a sunniness without the glare.

Popular on Variety

The Salt of Life


Production: A 01 Distribution release of a BiBi Film, Isaria Prods. production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema. (International sales: Fandango Portobello, London.) Produced by Angelo Barbagallo. Executive producer, Gaetano Daniele. Directed by Gianni Di Gregorio. Screenplay, Di Gregorio, Valerio Attanasio.

Crew: Camera (color), Gogo Bianchi; editor, Marco Spoletini; music, Ratchev & Carratello; production designer, Susanna Cascella; costume designer, Silvia Polidori; sound (Dolby Digital), Gianluca Costamagna; assistant director, Guido Colla; casting, Fabiola Banzi, Francesca Borromeo. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale Special), Feb. 11, 2011. Running time: 89 MIN.

Cast: With: Gianni Di Gregorio, Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni; Alfonso Santagata, Elisabetta Piccolomini, Valeria Cavalli, Alyn Prandi, Kristina Cepraga, Michelangelo Ciminale, Teresa Di Gregorio, Lilia Silvi, Gabriella Sborgi, Laura Squizzato, Silvia Squizzato.

More Scene

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Dickinson Premiere

    Hailee Steinfeld, Jane Krakowski on What Modern Women Can Learn From Emily Dickinson

    Emily Dickinson lived in the 1800s, but if you ask the team behind Apple TV Plus’ upcoming series, “Dickinson,” her story is more current than ever. Hailee Steinfeld stars in the the modern-day retelling of the poet’s young life. The actress — who makes her first full-time foray into television with the role and also [...]

  • Don Cheadle

    ACLU Bill of Rights Gala to Honor Don Cheadle, Feature Appearances by Selena Gomez, Regina Hall

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California will honor “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Monday” star Don Cheadle at the organization’s annual Bill of Rights dinner on Nov. 17 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Cheadle will be recognized for his activist work as an advocate for racial and gender equality, immigration reform, reproductive and LGBTQ [...]

  • Helen Mirren attends the LA Premiere

    Why Helen Mirren Considers Catherine the Great to Be 'Superhuman'

    It’s no secret that Dame Helen Mirren has a knack for nailing regal roles. Following her Oscar-winning on-screen reign as Queen Elizabeth II back in 2006, the thespian brings yet another powerful ruler to life in HBO’s limited mini-series “Catherine the Great.” Just as she does on the small screen as Russian Empress Catherine II, [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content