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Gianni e le donne

April 28, 2012
Gianni e le donne

Gianni is back, and better than ever. Or is that worse? Sequels are historically disappointing, but I’m glad to say that Gianni e le donne (released in English as The Salt of Life) — Gianni Di Gregorio’s follow-up to Pranzo di ferragosto (released in English as Mid-August Lunch) — is an exception. I found his previous outing good but not great, but with an interesting, pseudo-autobiographical approach not unlike Larry David, but far less tense and harsh. I’m glad he’s gotten another bite at this apple, and that this time he’s nailed it.

Gianni may not be in a crisis of debt this time around, but he’s still struggling with life as an early pensioner, and still stuck caring for his mother (Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni), now in her mid-to-late nineties. After he and his lawyer friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) flub an attempt to get him power of attorney for his mother, Alfonso decides that what Gianni really needs is not more fiscal breathing room, but an affair.

And really why not? Gianni is sixty, not dead. His wife and daughter don’t seem to have much use for him beyond rides to Ikea for curtains. He gets on better with his daughter’s boyfriend than with either of them, and signs point to him not being around for very much longer.

So Gianni decides to give it a go. Of course, he’s the opposite of the usual author-figure — a hapless sad-sack who would make Charlie Brown feel sorry — and so nothing goes as planned. His mother’s caretaker dreams of him, but as her grandfather; the daughter of his mother’s friend only has eyes for even younger men; his college girlfriend falls asleep. Alfonso tries setting himself and Gianni up with twins, which doesn’t fail quite so badly as his other attempts. And, of course, whenever you talk about an aging man and sex there are international treaties requiring at least one Viagra gag.

Gianni isn’t the usual “last sane man”, either. His circumstances may be absurd at times, but it’s a particularly banal absurdity, which Gianni endures because, hey, what else are you gonna do? Oddly, the story benefits from removing the specific goal he had in Pranzo di ferragosto; the obstacles aren’t so frustrating and don’t feel quite so contrived. Everyone can relax and just get with it, wondering what on Earth this poor man can be thinking.

With a broader cast still consisting mostly of what seem to be amateurs, there’s more room for some embarrassingly amateurish performance. And yet instead we find a refreshing sense of naturalism. Gianni himself is no amateur, but he has surrounded himself with a cast with whom he can feel comfortable, and that makes his own performance work without feeling forced.

I’m certain that it’s possible to go through life without watching movies like this one; it’s even possible to be sustained and nourished without such light fare as this on the menu. And yet such a life wouldn’t be nearly as worth living as one that includes a judicious dash of salt.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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