A mistress can't cure his distress
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012
So often in films - as in politics and Hollywood - a character's fidelity is tested; having seen the consequences before (the name John Edwards comes to mind), audience members find themselves stifling pleas of "Don't do it!" as the main character surrenders to some siren song.
The gently comedic "Salt of Life" is not that movie.
Gianni Di Gregorio's Italian film follows a kindly retiree desperately in need of a tryst, if only he could find a willing participant. Giovanni's generosity verges on saintly considering his dismissive and thankless mother, wife, daughter, neighbors, friends and acquaintances. Doesn't he deserve a nice roll in the hay? Di Gregorio (who plays Giovanni) makes a sporadically compelling case that he does.
After all, as Giovanni's instigator friend Alfonso asserts, everyone is doing it. Even the old guy in sneakers and a track jacket who sits in a lawn chair on the sidewalk all day. He's covertly visiting the voluptuous blonde who works at the corner store.
Having seen the afternoon delight with his own eyes, Giovanni decides to embark on a great quest: He will extinguish his deep-seated loyalty and find a mistress. This turns out to be surprisingly difficult, in part because cheating goes against his caring nature. He's the type to serve his wife breakfast in bed and drive to his mother's house to respond to her "emergency" of a malfunctioning television set. There's also the issue of his self-confidence stemming from his frumpy, untucked appearance. Despite an impressive head of hair, Giovanni seems fixated with his aging parts. He pokes at the plump bags below his eyes and fondles the wattle under his chin, which is almost as difficult to watch as his attempts at romantic overtures.
At times, the sad sights are enough to make a person hope the put-upon guy finds success. The problem is, as affable as Giovanni is, there's not much more to him. He's a milquetoast pushover who spends his time avoiding conflict while ogling younger women. There also emerges a theme in Giovanni's torture. Those who take advantage of his kindness and the people who shoot him down share a commonality - they're all women.
They are also fairly caricatural in the ways they take advantage of Giovanni. His mother treats him like a car and catering service, spending his dwindling funds on expensive champagne and making him play chauffeur to her friends. His wife orders him around, offering up an occasional "good boy" when he complies. It feels as if Di Gregorio spent so much time painstakingly painting the cruelty of the peripheral female figures that he forgot to add any dimension to the protagonist.
The saying goes that nice guys finish last, and "The Salt of Life" does little to contradict that unfortunate sentiment. Watching Giovanni's consistent low level of abuse feels like listening to the interminable ding-ding-ding from an open car door. It's not long before a little annoyance becomes a cause for rage. And that means audience members might be stifling their pleas after all, but they may be more along the lines of "Just do something!"
Contains sexual situations and unwitting drug use. In Italian with English subtitles.