Gianni Di Gregorio worked in theater and film for years (co-writing, among other things, Matteo Garrone’s bleak Naples crime survey Gomorrah), but came to directing late, unveiling his debut behind the camera in 2008, when he was just shy of age 60. Mid-August Lunch was a stealthy success, a seemingly featherweight farce with an acid aftertaste that focused on a middle-aged bachelor who lives at home and is forced by his financial straits to take in the elderly matriarchs of families heading off for summer holidays.
For his second effort, The Salt Of Life, Di Gregorio hasn’t felt the need to stray far from his winning formula. He once again stars as a man named Gianni who’s under the thumb of a needy, possessive mother (Valeria De Franciscis, who played a similar character in Mid-August Lunch). This go-round, he has a wife and daughter who take him equally for granted—he wakes the former up every morning with coffee, and allows the latter to steal his breakfast before he heads downstairs to walk a dog owned by his pretty party-girl neighbor. He’s retired—or rather, was forced into early retirement—and has allowed himself to become an on-call handyman/errand-runner/financial doormat for all the women in his life. He’s worried about money and his own mortality, though he tries not to let it show; Di Gregorio has a handsome but hound-doggish face that makes him look like he hasn’t slept well in years.
Di Gregorio’s principal concern isn’t that so much that those around him don’t appreciate him, it’s that he’s aging and is afraid of being perceived as doddering and harmless. “I don’t want to go out and be just another old man on the street,” he tells a friend. Then he embarks on a few awkward attempts at flirtation that are prompted as much by his need for women to take him seriously again as by actual lust. His mother’s maid, the daughter of an old family friend, a bartender at a club—none of them seem to even think of him as a sexual being, and the mental emasculation is worse than being turned down. The breeziness of The Salt Of Life disguises a barbed consideration of mortality and being written off, becoming part of the scenery in later life—just another elderly man with a dog, watching the world go by.