Gianni e le Donne (Salt of Life) (2011) ***


A semi-sequel to Pranzo di Ferragosto, that plays as a kind of reward for those of us who came out for the the first film, and cherished it, and told our friends, and made it the modest but future-bankable international hit that it was.
There is an element of crowd-pleasing contrivance here – Valeria De Franciscis is back as Gianni’s mother, and at times the film sweats to keep her relevant to the story, her appearances often seeming like guest turns. Inevitably, it lacks the original's sense of surprise, and we can now take for granted the warmth, wit and good-heartedness that were all such wonderful surprises first time round. But the film is also less tight than Pranzo, more casual and episodic, and non-architectural in its structure, in the favoured arthouse manner. The observation and performances, however, are as beautiful as ever, and if you were one of our happy band that took Pranzo to your heart, you'll have little to complain about here.

The focus this time is Gianni's panicked realisation that, at sixty, his days of romantic adventure are now behind him. The film's structure thus mirrors his mental state, not least in a wonderful sequence, simultaneously moving and hilarious, in which he wanders Rome all night with his neighbour’s enormous pet dog after accidentally ingesting an hallucinogenic at a party, playing like a child in the city fountains while the dog looks on unimpressed.
Later, when he and the dog are sat in the street, there is a moment where he tries to get the dog’s attention by tapping it on its shoulder, the implication being that he either wants to tell it something or point something out to it, and when the dog ignores him he gives up with a look of bemused resignation. I fear it is impossible to convey why this is so hilarious, but it's one of the funniest, truest bit of comic-improvisational playing I’ve ever seen in a movie.
The climactic, aborted family meal, in which the two halves of his life come together, is superbly set up, and the ending is so perfect I wanted to stand and cheer. Gianni De Gregorio is, for me, the most cherishable filmmaker at work in the world today.