Here's Gianni's problem: he goes to a nightclub and the beautiful bartender doesn't look at him - she looks through him. He goes to his mother's villa and the beautiful nurse doesn't consider his late-night, drunken overtures. He goes to see an old flame, and she falls asleep on the couch.
In Gianni Di Gregorio's The Salt of Life, an ambling, amiable follow-up to the Italian writer/director/star's Mid-August Lunch, the sad sack with the sacks under his eyes feels increasingly like the old men he passes on Rome's streets in the middle of the day: retired or in retreat, walking dogs, with time on their hands.
And so, in this wry and wistful portrait of a man in the throes of a later-than-midlife crisis, Di Gregorio, playing the hangdog protagonist, tries to find a solution to his predicament, to combat the sense that his days are slipping by.
Gianni is married (Elisabetta Piccolomini is the wife), but their relationship is more like that of flatmates, old friends. And anyway, this is Italy (or the Italy of film) - if he has liaisons with other women, it's not the end of the world.
But he doesn't have liaisons, no matter how hard he tries. And that's the gist of The Salt of Life: Gianni's halfhearted or bungled efforts to pursue a woman. He can't even find his way to the brothel that his lawyer friend recommended without turning the crosstown journey into a disaster.
Imbued with gentle humor and a kind of bittersweet resignation, The Salt of Life isn't life-changing - it's life-describing. Di Gregorio's casting of himself seems to make perfect sense: Perhaps the film is autobiographical, perhaps not, but his performance never asks us to feel sorry for Gianni, even if Gianni is feeling terribly sorry for himself.