Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gianni Di Gregorio's fab follow-up to his Mid -August Lunch --THE SALT OF LIFE -- and a short Q&A with the filmmaker/star

Fans of that foreign-language sleeper hit from two years ago, Mid August Lunch (my earlier review is here) will rejoice in discovering that they are about to get a second helping of Gianni Di Gregorio, the fellow (shown below) who wrote, directed and starred in that film. His new film -- titled Gianni e le donne in Italian (Gianni and the women), a smarter and to-the-point moniker than the more generic-sounding THE SALT OF LIFE -- is even better than his earlier venture, which was so light and innocuous that it seemed it might float away even as you were watching. A lot of background stuff took place during "lunch" -- giving us a look at how Italy works and/or doesn't -- but the ladies who lunched in the foreground took precedence over all.

The Salt of Life initially looks like a movie in which its protagonists -- Gianni (played by Gianni) and his lawyer/friend Alfonso (played by Alfonso Santagata) -- are putting one over on women in general and Italian women in particular. Nope. When looked at from a feminist perspective (and I think this is exactly what Di Gregorio is doing, whether he's aware of it or not. Maybe this ability simply comes as second nature to the man), the women we see are more than able to take very good care of themselves. (Well, they must, given the state of mature, if that's the right word, Italian manhood.)

The filmmaker revels and delights in the lives led by other people, even if he would have us believe Gianni to be fairly clueless in figuring out those lives. Di Gregorio has laid out his film quite cleverly so that, again and again, we assume -- only to have our assumptions (often the same as Gianni's, with whom we are identifying) knocked out from under us.

The arc of the movie involves -- in fact, they well could have titled it thus -- Getting Gianni Laid, though this proves not as easy as you might think. To this end, we're introduced to woman after woman (in one case, a set of identical twins, above). But our hero, ever too much the gentleman to take undue advantage, is usually taken advantage of himself. But sweetly.

Gianni's mom is back this time, along with some other ladies who lunch, and it is good to see her and them. We're privy to a younger generation, too, as we meet Gianni's daughter and her boyfriend (below, left) -- who is not nearly as dumb as you might initially imagine.The juxtaposing of the generations is handled with the same smart charm that the filmmaker seems to apply to everything he encounters.

At one point is declared this gem: "The old times are gone. We need to change." How Italian -- this takes us at least as far back as The Leopard (movie or book) -- but necessity and accomplishment are not quite the same thing.

The movie finally seems even more universal than Mid-August Lunch -- it's a sweet duet about male fantasy and aging -- and when Here Comes Your Man hits the soundtrack at the finale, you'll probably be sporting a mile-wide grin.

From Zeitgeist Films, The Salt of Life (90 minutes) opens in New York City this Friday, March 2 -- at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center. Next Friday, March 9, it will open in the Los Angeles area at various Laemmle theaters. Click here to see all the upcoming playdates nationwide (there are a lot of these, and your city is probably among them).


When The Salt of Life made its U.S. premier during last year's FSLC Open Roads festival of new Italian films, TrustMovies had the chance to speak briefly with the filmmaker and star of the movie. When I first saw Mid August Lunch and realized that the same man wrote both the bleak, dark Gormorrah and this little butterfly of a movie, I was astounded. So my first question to Gianni De Gregorio (below) had to do with this.

So you co-wrote Gomorrah and then Mid-August Lunch and now its follow-up. Whew! That's like Antonio Albanese playing in Days & Clouds and then Whatsoeverly. (Gianni shakes his head, yes, but doesn't comment.)  All right:  back to The Salt of Life: I liked your new film even more than your earlier one. It seemed more universal in how it "sticks it" to the male ego. 

(Gianni laughs.) Thank you...

But sweetly. You seem to be a very sweet man.

It comes to me very naturally -- this sort of compassion for others. It very hard for me to see the ugly side of people.

But how did you come to write Gomorrah?  That is one of the ugliest movies I have ever seen!

Remember: Gomorrah I wrote together with five other screenwriters. I never would have been able to write it all, or direct a film like that, for it shows such a dark side of life. When I direct a film, this side of me -- the sweet, accomodating side -- comes out.  But I really do have to say that I do like a very socially oriented type of film, a film that is politically engaged.

Well, your films -- both Mid-August Lunch and Salt of Life -- are politically engaged!  

Ah -- thank you!

In small ways, maybe, like in Mid August Lunch, we see how Gianni has to accomodate the managing agent of the building, even if this is a little sleazy. And in Salt of Life, the way you and your lawyer friend try to put one over on the women, the way you show us all this is political -- even feminist -- in its way.

(He laughs.) I really wanted to do a feminist film because I think that Italian men are changing, too; they are much less macho than they were in the past.  Unlike the film Gomorrah, I have to say when I am doing a comedy, which I am much more inclined toward, I will write and do something political without fully realizing it. But on the other hand, when we were doing Gomorrah, I would time and again come up with a funny line, and everyone would start laughing, then they would write it down for the script and suddenly they'd say, "No, no -- we can't use that."  It's my natural inclination toward the comic, and it is also a defense mechanism against suffering.

Right. And this is probably a very good defense mechanism.  Did you see Il Divo, and what did you think of it?

I think it is a great analysis of Italian power and how mysteriously it operates. The film really conveys a very clear idea of the mystery of Italy. Terrible crimes have happened, yet nothing has ever been explained. I think Il Divo capture this perfectly.

Yes, it shows us this, while still leaving the mystery intact.  So what's next for you?

The fact of the international success of my first film, and now that my second has been sold here in the US and other countries, this also fills me with a huge sense of responsibility. So I must think very carefully what my next film will be.  I don't know whether to continue with this character or not.  I am asking your advice. What do you think?

(Hmmmm.  This is unusual...) Well, OK:  I think you don't want to go the way, for instance, of Roberto Benigni -- who became perhaps too much Robert Benigni. But I think that you, as a performer and writer/director, are not as intrusive a personality as Benigni, so perhaps you can stick with this character.  If you continue as you've done so far -- because The Salt of Life is a big expansion of Mid August Lunch --  if you keep expanding in this way, you could go on forever.  But don't just give us the same thing.

I appreciate what you say, because I really do listen to what people have to say. It is only after you make something that you begin to know what you have done.

I think artists often don't know -- at least fully -- what they've done. So much of one's work is instinctual, isn't it?


(We get the high sign that our time is up.) Whoops -- that's it, I guess. But whatever you decide to do next, just give us some more films!

Thank you.

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