Review: 'The Life Ahead'
What can anyone say about Sophia Loren that hasn’t already been said?
At the age of 86, she has generated a lifetime of memorable movie performances.
She was catapulted into international fame with her Oscar winning role in Vittoria De Sica’s classic film Two Women (1960). The rest is movie history.
She became a superstar, a Hollywood icon, known and beloved worldwide for her smoldering beauty and remarkable talent.
For the past decade, she has been absent from the big screen, that is until recently when she agreed to collaborate with her son Edoardo Ponti to star in The Life Ahead (2020), a remake of the French film Madame Rosa (1977).
It is worth mentioning that Edoardo Ponti ‘s father was the late Carlo Ponti, the legendary Italian film producer whose 168 films include: Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (1960), and Marriage Italian Style (1964), Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1963), David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966).
You could say that moviemaking was in Edoardo’s blood.
And that is evident in The Life Ahead, a modern-day movie made in the spirit of Italian Neorealism which emerged in the aftermath of World War II.
What it has in common with those classics like Rome, Open City (1945), Umberto D (1952), and La Strada (1954) is a gritty, uncompromising honesty and truth reflecting real-life struggle and sorrow happening in the real world.
In The Life Ahead, it’s the story of Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute living a meager existence in an Italian seaside village. She provides a temporary home to several children of local sex workers who are struggling to survive.
She is elderly. Her health is beginning to fail. The last thing she wants to do is to bring aboard another orphaned child. But that’s precisely what happens when Momo enters her life.
Momo is short for Mohammad, a young Muslim boy whose mother was murdered by his father when she refused to continue working as a hooker.
Momo is damaged goods, so emotionally shattered and scarred that any chance of recovery would appear to be impossible.
His chance meeting with Madame Rosa begins when he steals two candlesticks that she hopes to sell in order to pay her rent.
Their relationship is improbable. But eventually she grudgingly takes him in at the request of her friend, the local physician, who feels that the child is in need of a strong female figure. He finds that in Madame Rosa.
Momo is played by 14-year-old Ibrahima Gueye who tackles the role with all the sensitivity and nuance of a veteran actor.
His performance is remarkable. His chemistry with Sophia Loren is what makes the movie worth seeing.
Loren, once again, creates a role with depth and resonance. Though her former glamour has faded away, what remains is her inner strength and spirit.
While her face may be almost unrecognizable, her passion for her craft is still shines through for all to see.
It’s noteworthy that Sophia Loren has the courage not only to age gracefully and naturally, but to be photographed unsparingly.
Unlike so many actresses who revert to cosmetic surgery or choose, like Greta Garbo, to end their careers before they began to visibly age on screen, Loren seems to be at peace at being mortal, being straightforward and being herself.
Loren was made to play this role at this stage of her long career.
She embraces it. She gives it her all. As she has done so many times before, she becomes the character.
The Life Ahead is a poignant tale with a somewhat predictable story arc.
The disparity in the character’s ages telegraphs where it’s going and how it will inevitably end.
It’s the journey that counts. And the message it conveys.
We’ve seen movies about younger men and transformative relationships with much older women.
I’m thinking of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971) with Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon. Movies like this are both joyous and sad.
In the end, aging and time are always the ever-present, inescapable villains.
The Life Ahead is no exception.
But the preciousness of time and the urgency to do something purposeful with whatever time we have is what the movie is all about. And a reminder of what life should perhaps be all about.
The Life Ahead is a slice of life kind of story. It’s a dose of reality.
It is cinematic substance without any sugar coating or artificial additives.
Be prepared for an emotional ride and a thoughtful, masterful performance from an actress who still has much to share in her autumn years.
She is a strong, aging lioness.
It’s a parable about life and love, kindness and sacrifice, and the importance of reaching out to those in need even when we question whether we have anything left to give.
The Life Ahead is on Netflix and in select theaters.