“The Salt of Life”: Aging Romans Attempt to Seize the Day

As in his directorial debut, Mid-August Lunch, Gianni Di Gregorio stars in this quiet comedy, this time as Giovanni, a man in his early sixties forcibly retired nearly a decade ago and whose only employment today is playing gray-haired errand boy to the still-active women who surround him. Giovanni lives in Rome with a wife — the relationship has evidently cooled to mutual indifference — and a daughter. Aside from his mother (Valeria de Franciscis), who hectors Giovanni with calls for assistance, no one seems to expect much more from him. Giovanni, in turn, doesn't seem to expect much of life, until his contemporary, lone friend, the rubicund lawyer Alfonso, stokes Giovanni's desire to take a last crack at physical love — though when they step out together, Giovanni notices they don't make much of an impact: It's like I'm transparent. Di Gregorio's performance sets the tone of dim hope and quiet forbearance, telling the story through reactions: an ever-accommodating smile that shades into a wince; sparkling, heavy-lidded eyes betrayed by vexed brows. With a fine, finicky touch, these convey the longings of a flaneur with yet-young eyes, clinging to the right side of the divide between late middle-age and true senescence, though even the more broad, shame-based humor is done discreetly — a Viagra joke comes as close to tactfulness as such things can, limited to Giovanni giving his lap a few furtive glances.

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