Gianni Di Gregorio was one of the six writers on the mafia saga Gomorrah, which crammed what felt like an entire season of HBO programming into an approachable feature. His subsequent work has been, to put it lightly, more chill. Di Gregorio, now in his 60s, parlayed his Gomorrah stint into a late-blooming directing career, dedicated, so far, to light souffles. Only those who think ambitious means better will think this a step down. Mid-August Lunch is deceptively slight, with a white-wine-guzzling, middle-aged slacker (played by Di Gregorio) taking care of a gaggle of elderly women. The Salt of Life is not technically a sequel, but it features Di Gregorio once again tending to his nonagenarian sparkplug mother (Valeria de Franciscus, also returning). And since sequels, even sequels-of-sorts like this, need to be bigger and better, he’s also supplying respite for his daughter, his daughter’s boyfriend, his oft-AWOL wife, his mother’s friends and seemingly anyone else who needs an errand run or a dog walked.
Simultaneously laid-back and harried, with a leathery face and toothy smile that an animator would love, Di Gregorio’s Gianni was the aloof center of chaos in Mid-August Lunch. The Salt of Life finds him belatedly looking out for No. 1. Frazzled by his mother’s over-spending and the fear that he could, if left unattended, become just another old man wasting his autumn years, Gianni decides to look for love—or at least lust over Italy’s scantily dressed lasses. The existence of a mission automatically makes Salt more ambitious than Lunch, and though this follow-up is less beautiful, less frenzied and more written than its predecessor, the lackadaisical drive remains. Driven but lazy, Gianni hits a series of romantic dead ends, always winding up sucked once again into, say, fixing his mother’s television’s unreliable plugs. The unresolved sadness that haunts Salt makes for a meatier sophomore effort, albeit one whose structure is slightly closer to standard than the borderline experimental Lunch. Still, it’s more of nearly the same, meaning that Di Gregorio has made a relaxed master movie with only his second film. ■