It’s not often that a film teaches me numerous lessons on life. In fact, as cinematic rarities go, only the Abba-inspired, fingers-down-my-throat-fest Mamma Mia gave me more than one profound realisation.
Firstly, that my eyes, ears and mouth all required industrial bleaching and, most importantly of all, the young lady who took me to see it was, inherently, heinous.
Massive, massive applauso then to Gianni Di Gregorio, who has successfully pinned me down like a school yard bully and slowly dribbled a massive shining glob of autobiographical gender dogma straight into my startled, gaping film cavity.
Salt of Life (or Gianni e le Donne to give it its hipster name) is, and I’ll get straight to the point here, the most surprisingly enjoyable film I’ve seen all year. Yes, even more surprising than Bridesmaids.
It’s written by, starring and partially directed by Gianni di Gregorio, who is somehow simultaneously illuminating and charming whilst always looking slightly bereaved from reality in someway – sort of like a half-cut, divorcee uncle who, despite always finding pound coins behind your ear, has his face painted like a sad clown.
Some of you may recognise him from last years surprise hit ‘Mid-August Lunch‘, which involves a lot of the same characters and a lot of the same plot lines. This isn’t a sequel, but it isn’t a remake either, so just think of it as a polished EP coming along after a very encouragingly pleasant demo.
She might look like something that’s fallen out of the bins behind Jim Henderson’s creature workshop, but she’s brilliant in this.
Gianni, who’s probably a kind-hearted Italian gentleman with more candles on his cake than he’d really like to acknowledge, plays Gianni, a kind-hearted Italian gentleman with more candles on his cake than he’d really like to acknowledge…
Gianni has a problem though, he can’t get laid. All his pals appear to be wining, dining and smacking the arses of bonnie young Latin lassies, but he’s unemployed, flabby, and growing weary of a life which only peaks of excitement when he’s trying to conceal masturbation from his ex-wife. I feel your pain amico.
So, with nothing more than his own determination, and presumably decades of repressed sexual frustration, he embarks on a voyage that’s as much about self-discovery as it is about rekindling the art of horizontal jogging. The sultry neighbour, the long-lost ex, his mother’s carer, two twins, a parking attendant – they’re all fair game.
This has all the ingredients to make it bone-achingly awful and cliché riddled dross. It could have been little more than a few horny old Italians shuffling between gags and sketches that were just as old and tired than they were. This could have ended up as a cross between the Carry On films and a Bunga-Bunga party, but somehow, the jammy git’s actually gone and made a classic here.
It’s just delightful.
Even as I sat there, smugly 40 years Gianni’s junior, his portrayal of a man in his fermenting years emphatically breached the age (and I’d wager the gender) barrier, gives us one of the most honest and expansively flagrant insights into the inexhaustible hilarity of the human mating ritual. It might also break the record for “oldest coming-of-age film ever”.
But where you’d normally associate the term “coming-of-age film” with Seann William-Scott drinking ejaculate out of a plastic cup, Salt of Life plants its flag firmly in the crotch of Americana and announces that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re still the horny little schemer who found a dirty magazine on the school field and sold pages of it to his friends under the table in a Maths class. Or something.
Oh, and special mention must be made to Valeria De Franciscis. In the midst of a cast that’s spilling out of it’s own bustier with a relentless conveyor belt of incandescent young females, she steals the show as the withered hypochondriac Mother, who, between calling him over to change the channel, still manages to piss money away with all the reckless indulgence of a terminally-ill rapper. She might look like something that’s fallen out of the bins behind Jim Henderson’s creature workshop, but she’s brilliant in this.
So yes, as for those life lessons I alluded to in the beginning, they go as thus…
You will get old, your looks will flee, jowls will make base-camp on hitherto unknown body parts and what little charm you’d convinced yourself you had will evaporate next to the searing heat of younger, more attractive males. And, when these things happen, you will completely lose your mind, so just try and enjoy it.
This article first appeared on KYEO, the North-East’s daily arts and culture dispatch. Click here for more information.
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