I remember well watching Sophia Loren come out in an Oscars broadcast not long ago and wondered if she had retired. Her career has been long and illustrious career within the Italian and American cinematic landscapes, but where has she been? It’s a question many cinephiles have pondered…until now.
In The Life Ahead, the third collaboration with her writer/director son Edoardo Ponti, Loren plays Madame Rosa, an Italian Holocaust survivor and former lady of the evening, who begrudgingly takes in and bonds with a Senegalese orphan, Momo (Ibraham Gueye). Rosa is spirited, blunt, full of life and a heart bigger than the globe. Momo is troubled and struggling to survive his memories of being orphaned in Senegal, while simultaneously Madame’s memory is peppered with memories of Auschwitz and finds her mind drifting away from reality.
Based on Romain Gary’s 1975 book The Life Before Us (adapted once before, in 1977’s Madame Rosa – starring Simone Signoret), The Life Ahead results in a tour de force performance culminating all the class, rich boldness that has served this 70 year-old cinematic career extremely well for decades. The relationships and how they unfold are a staple for this film Ibraham Gueye’s range as Momo is remarkably captivating while drawing the audience in for every single moment. He, unexpectedly, becomes the one person Rosa can depend on even in the most dire of circumstances. Especially, as her past trauma begins to take over her present state of mind. Those scenes where he tracks her down only to find her zoned out in a bunker are some of the most powerful moments in the film.
Rosa’s best friend (former middleweight boxing champion turned sex worker), Lola is portrayed beautifully by Abril Zamora. Just as with Momo, the girls bond on a molecular level where their history is felt through every moment and every word.
Edoardo Ponti’s direction is delicate and deliberate, which works perfectly for this project providing the audience with a journey that will sear and break hearts simultaneously. Anyone who has ever been a caregiver or knows a senior who is in the last chapter of their life can relate to the conflicted feelings of wanted them to get the best medical care possible, yet being afraid of what that care may or may not look like. Currently streaming via Netflix, The Life Ahead is a beautifully, poignant film perfectly illustrating the power of humanity versus class and race with an award winning performances from Loren and Gueye that are more than worth the watch.