Film Review – The Salt of Life
Getting old is hard. Not just because things stop working right or looking as good, but because our lives appear to be set in stone. We are who we are by middle age, and changing that takes a tremendous effort. We start to feel invisible to those around us; people either take us for granted or dismiss us because we don’t show any obvious value. Why fight to be relevant when it is so much easier to get old without staying engaged in the world?
The Salt of Life is the story of Rome resident Gianni (co-writer/director Gianni Di Gregorio); he’s 60ish, with a wife, a live-in daughter, and a demanding mother. Forced to retire at 50, he has fallen into the role of nurturer to the active women surrounding him. He rises early and prepares breakfast for his wife and daughter (and his daughter’s slacker boyfriend), he runs the errands his wife doles out to him, and he’s always walking his dog and that of the young and beautiful neighbor downstairs. He is also at the beck and call of his elderly mother, who will phone him about not feeling well—but when he gets to her place, he finds that she just needs him to fix the television reception. He has become a creature of his routines and is just gliding through the years without any passion.
But Rome is a beautiful city with many lovely women, and they are all catching Gianni’s eye. He begins to realize that even the oldest of men have a little something on the side, and he wishes for a little of that action himself. It is only a daydream until his lawyer friend Alfonso (Alfonso Santagata) tries to convince him that the ladies are ripe for picking by anyone who tries hard enough. Gianni starts to pursue various women, with mildly comedic results.
Money is also a recurring theme here. Gianni has a little bit of his pension left, but when that goes he will be dependent on his wife’s earnings, and his mother has ensured that there will be nothing left for him from her estate when she dies. Wooing the ladies takes money, so he goes through what little funds he has left fairly quickly. Scouting out opportunities to score with beautiful women may not only be a way for him to engage with life again, but may also help him feel more like a “man,” since he is supported by his wife.
This is a visually beautiful film. Rome is lovingly portrayed, as are the ladies; most of them are shown at full ripeness, literally overflowing from their blouses. Even Gianni’s mother is dolled up with colorful dresses and a blonde wig. The one exception is his wife, who looks kind of dry. The world in this film is so sensual and attractive, Gianni has no choice but to contemplate engaging with everything around him.
Director/writer/star Di Gregorio has a very light touch—so light, in fact, that this movie is not funny enough to be a comedy and not sad enough to be a tragedy. It just floats along, barely touching upon Gianni’s story, without getting too deep. There is a certain amount of pleasure to be had from this kind of film; it is wonderful to just go along with the story. Everything is pretty, all the characters are somewhat loveable, and a gentle humor permeates every scene.
That being said, this is not my movie. The director’s touch was so light that Gianni held no substance for me. At no point in the movie does he realize that maybe he is invisible to the people around him because he is boring. And he is boring because he never truly engages with anything, except for his mother. Even his attempts to court women are rather passionless and half-hearted. There is no reason why any woman, including his wife, would ever sleep with him; he’s got no spark. As a married lady, I am likely to be unsympathetic to a guy who keeps trying to cheat on his wife, but this is a movie and I am mature enough to be able to set those biases aside; I was bored rather than bothered. I wanted this film to be funnier or sadder, but its middle-of-the-roadness just made me sleepy. (I will admit that there was one dude at the press screening who laughed his ass off. My theory was that he was either just the right age to sympathize or he was totally baked.)
So here is my quandary: there are a lot of good things about The Salt of Life, but I didn’t really enjoy it. I am going to recommend it to a certain audience, however. If you are an adult who likes to look at sun-dappled Italian cities and you don’t require much personal growth or resolution in your characters, then this is the movie for you. It’s enjoyable enough and would be a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Final Grade: B