There’s nothing quite like a good Italian film. It transports the the soul – not just to bella Italia, but to what the country represents at its best; vitality, earthiness, exhuberant and attractive men and women, and a certain indefinable spirit that’s hard to find in other parts of the world or the imagination.
Add dogs to a good Italian movie, and you just can’t go wrong.
“The Salt of Life,” a wistful comedy about an aging mama’s boy who longs to look and feel younger, has all the ingredients of a fine Italian film, and a couple of scene-stealing dogs to boot.
Between his demanding, aristocratic mother, his platonic friendship with his wife, his daughter’s slacker live-in boyfriend, and all the beautiful Roman women he passes daily while walking his dog, Gianni is constantly reminded that he’s inching closer to life as one of the “codgers” he sees sitting in chairs outside cafes all day. He longs to be youthful, vibrant, and a magnet for women. But the sweet, gracious, polite Gianni (played by the film’s director, Gianni Di Gregorio, whose voice is reminscent of one of my favorite actors, Marcello Mastroianni) will settle for simply not bring quite so invisible to women. Even old women seem to take his good-natured helpfulness for granted.
A lovely young neighbor in his apartment building has a great fondness for Gianni, and he’s overjoyed when she tells him she had a dream about him. When finds out he is her grandfather in the dream, it’s poignant to see him try to continue smiling, and being his usual kind and understanding self. (That scene is in the beginning of the film’s trailer, below.)
The neighbor values Gianni greatly, and he’s happy just to walk her large St. Bernard. This is where the dogs come in.
Gianni, who retired at the age of 50, spends much of his time walking his own little dog, and often takes the St. Bernard along to give his neighbor some down time. The scenes with the dogs are endearing. We never get to know the dogs as characters with their own personalities, as we do the dogs in movies like “The Artist” or “Beginners.” But having the dogs in the scenes is a joy to the dog-lover’s eye, and adds a certain groundedness to the film.
In the film image above, Gianni is enchanted to sit at the park with his neighbor and her dog. These are the kinds of moments that make him happy. The moments that make him realize his possible future of being an old guy sitting on a park bench – as in the image below – are bittersweet.
Will Gianni become less invisible? Will he avoid what seems to be the inescapable riptide toward old-mandom he’s trying valiantly – like the gentleman he is – to swim away from?
You’ll have to watch the film to find out. Don’t go to “The Salt of Life” thinking this is a Fellini-esque barrel of passion and energy, or anything close to a ribald comedy. It can feel slow-paced at times, but that’s just it. It’s supposed to take you into the world of Gianni, including moments where people just sit silently and simply exist while the clock ticks. “The Salt of Life” is a charming, bittersweet comedy that stays with you for days after you watch it.
The film is opening at movie theaters of the “art house” variety around the U.S. thoughout the spring and summer, and will be available on DVD later this year. For playdates, go to Zeitgeist Films.