Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Salt of Life (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Salt of Life

"The Salt of Life", the second film from Gianni de Gregorio makes a pleasing barzelletta, or joke, if not a completely satiating outing. This is a kind of light comedy with bright colors and mild quirky characters  that parade about like James Thurber illustrations. It doesn't make waves but it is as smooth and easy as a San Pellegrino in the sun and no doubt it will give you a few buoyant chuckles.

Gianni de Gregorio, the director, treads the familiar ground that he began in his debut film "Mid-August Lunch" Once again, Gianni plays a side of himself: a semi-passive man who is dreamy and wanting more but who is nonetheless happy with himself. Gianni goes through his suburban Italian environment shuffling his feet with a wistful contentment. Wherever he goes, he seems tickled by exclusive types of especially luscious grocery produce juxtaposed by the sight of golden breasts. At times, the film seems a slightly sexist travelogue or fairy tale. 

Throughout the film, Gianni stops and gives various summery girls the once over, but it is without any carnal malice or confrontation. For a few seconds, I wondered why. But what emerges is an Italian Idyll that mellows the heart, not quite real, but nevertheless authentic. 
Gianni is kind of a flirty Jacques Tati. He also is a bit like Robert De Niro, if De Niro's features were a bit smoothed out by Ativan and put in retrograde--both actors have a similar sly twinkle in the eye. (Remember that Gianni co-wrote  the masterful Italian gangster film "Gomorrah"). 
In this outing, Gianni again keeps an eye on his dominant mother (Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni). And he is near invisible to everyone including his vacant wife (Elizabetta Piccolomini) and his real life daughter (Teresa De Gregorio). Like a lusty Walter Mitty Gianni appears spaced out, drifting with his own predilections. 

The trouble is there just isn't much for Gianni to do here. After the first few goes around,the sight of him being stuck with a man and his poodle when he wants to roam as a paramour isn't as funny as it should be, nor is he a laugh riot being drunk or trippy and splashing about in a fountain. We've seen such foolery in "Arthur". And I don't really find being high all that funny on camera.

But for all the tepid comedy, the film works best if you take it in stride, as if you were seeing a friendly neighbor across the street and saying, "Oh there he goes again!"

The best part of "The Salt of Life" occurs near the end, as a kind of Zen meditation as dreamt by Benny Hill. It ends all too abruptly. I just wish I could get a finger or two more of Fellini, or an added sip of this aperitif.

Despite this criticism, fans of Gianni De Gregorio's work will not be disapointed. These characters warm the eyes like beloved friends.

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