Sacred Mid-August! For urban dwellers it’s that time of the year when pace slows down, city rhythms become placid and people go back to feeling like human beings again. Perfect week for film watching – these two are to be treasured and watched again and again…
The charismatic Gianni Di Gregorio (co-scenarist of the smash hit Gomorrah), stars in his directorial debut Mid-August Lunch—an utterly charming tale of good food, feisty ladies and unlikely friendships during a very Roman holiday. Broke, and armed with only a glass of wine and a wry sense of humor, middle-aged Gianni resides with his 93-year-old mother in their ancient apartment. The condo debts are mounting, but if Gianni looks after the building manager’s mother during the Pranzo di Ferragosto (Italy’s biggest summer holiday, and the Feast of the Assumption), all will be forgiven. Then the manager also shows up with an auntie, and then a doctor friend appears with his mother in tow… Can Gianni keep four such lively mamas well fed and happy in these cramped quarters?
In his warm and witty follow-up to the sleeper hit Mid-August Lunch, writer-director-actor Gianni Di Gregorio has created another sparkling comedy—this time with a dash of the bittersweet. In The Salt of Life, Gianni plays a middle-aged retiree who has become invisible to all distaff Romans, regardless of age or relation. He contends with an aristocratic, spendthrift mother (again played by Lunch’s great nonagenarian Valeria de Franciscis Bendoni); a wife who is more patronizing friend than romantic partner; a daughter (played by Di Gregorio’s daughter Teresa) with a slacker boyfriend whom Gianni unwillingly befriends; and a wild young neighbor who sees him merely as her dog walker. Watching his “codger” friends snare beautiful younger women on the sun-kissed cobblestones of Trastevere, Gianni tries his polite, utterly gracious best to generate some kind of extracurricular love life—with both hilarious and poignant results.
The most charming, feel good, humane stories are about life, family, society, old age. Stories based on real events from Gianni’s life (taking care of an ageing mother with powerful personality, his wife and daughters that fled ”out of an instinct of survival”, the building manager that asked him to take care of his mother during Ferragosto holiday, knowing that Gianni was behind with some bills -he said no!). Stories encapsulating loving tenderness, dignity and respect, kind humour and a dash of bittersweet nostalgia.
Keeping his films as natural as possible, Gianni worked with people that had never acted before or, in Salt, with actors he described ”as genuine as possible”. He kept the leading role for himself, because ”when we were preparing the film, while I was explaining to the crew that we needed to find a middle-aged man, more or less an alcoholic, who had lived for years with his mother, I realized that all eyes were turned to me”. None of the elderly ladies in Lunch was an actor. The youngest among them was 84 years old. The eldest, the *astonishing* Valeria De Franciscis Bendoni, was 93; and in Salt, as irresistible as ever, an admirable, indomitable 96!