The Life Ahead

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I’m always amused when I see a critic heralding an actor’s appearance in a new movie as a comeback. It’s such a backhanded compliment either implying that they haven’t been working or that the stuff they’ve been doing for years isn’t good. In the last decade, Sophia Loren was the Rob Marshall-directed musical Nine, the Italian TV miniseries My House Is Full of Mirrors, and an Italian short-film adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play The Human Voice. Now granted the screen icon doesn’t act very often and her work of the past certainly overshadows her modern output, but in the immortal words of LL Cool J: “Don’t call it a comeback! I’ve been here for years.” The Life Ahead has received significant buzz for Sophia Loren’s performance. She is indeed the main reason to see this.

The story concerns a 12-year old immigrant from Senegal named Momo (Ibrahima Gueye). A street kid living in coastal Italy, he snatches the shopping bag from elderly Rosa (Sophia Loren) at the market one day. After her possessions are returned, the tenacious woman reluctantly agrees to take him in. She attempts to mentor him to be a better person and they develop a deep connection. This isn’t the first child she has given shelter. Rosa is both a Holocaust survivor and an ex-prostitute who now cares for the children of other sex workers.

The chronicle may sound familiar. It is based on the French novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary which has been adapted a few times before. The most notable one being Madame Rosa starring Simone Signoret in 1977. That subsequently won the Academy Award for Best International Feature. This version is directed and co-written (with Ugo Chiti) by Edoardo Ponti who is in fact Loren’s son with her husband producer Carlo Ponti Sr. I think it’s safe to say that director and star have a warm rapport. It comes through on the screen.

The Life Ahead is a perfect vehicle for Loren. The motherly bond that develops between her and Momo is basically the narrative here. As you can probably surmise from the setup, the saga is a little treacly and manipulative. Yet it can be captivating too. Furthermore, it’s nice to see the legendary actress in a feature film again. She exudes charisma. Will she garner another Oscar nomination? There has been serious talk. If Sophia is cited in 2021, it would mark a 56-year span since she was last nominated. This would make history as the longest gap ever. Incidentally, the current record holder is Henry Fonda who went 41-years between nominations. Sophia makes this genial account something worth watching. For that reason, I’m hoping she is included.


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