The Edoardo Ponti-directorial is not a perfect movie, but still a fitting tribute to Sophia Loren’s genius that turns it into a tale of intransient pain and intermittent solace
The camera loves Sophia Loren, it always has. A stalwart in the world of film acting and one of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s golden era — she has a career which spans over seven decades with innumerable accolades under her belt.
In 1962, she became the first actor in a foreign film to bag an Oscar for her role in Two Women (1961). Since then, she has proved her mettle as a serious actor in multiple films like Marriage Italian Style (1964), A Special Day (1977), Nine (2009) among others.
And, despite the inability of the film word to deal with the sex symbols way past their prime, she stands out as an aberration, an octogenarian who is relentless in her pursuit to churn out good work.
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In her latest Italian movie, The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé) directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, she delivers a masterful performance. The veteran actor lifts up the entire production from the claws of mediocrity and turns it into a tear-jerking tale of intransient pain and intermittent solace. An examination of the human condition and the human need for true companionship, the movie does best when Loren is in her element.
She plays the role of Madame Rosa, a holocaust survivor and an ex-prostitute who now devotes her time in taking care of abandoned children. Rosa is a fiery, self-confident, old woman who tries to put a lid on her troubled past, but in vain.
Loren captures her deepest anxieties artfully as she grapples with her memories from Auschwitz. Rather than being a constant reminder of her troubled childhood, these memories serve as a harsh reminder that her being has been altered irrevocably since her tryst with the truly ugly. As the film commences, the past refuses to dissipate. Instead, it chooses to weigh down on her like a bag of bones, putting her in a state of perpetual insecurity, dragging her down the hellish depths of dementia.
The Life Ahead
- Cast: Sophia Loren, Ibrahimi Gueye, Renato Carpentieri, Babak Karimi, Abril Zamora
- Director: Edoardo Ponti
- Storyline: In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her
The ageing screen veteran is complemented by the magnetic screen presence of Ibrahima Gueye who plays a troubled 11-year-old Senegalese boy by the name of Momo.
Also the narrator of the story, Momo lost his mother when his father decided to kill her, after she refused to prostitute herself. Living with Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri), he is a juvenile delinquent who meets Madame Rosa while trying to steal her handbag.
After Dr. Coen makes Momo return the stolen bag to Rosa, she takes him under her wings, albeit begrudgingly. The ensuing conflict between the two makes up for some genuinely heart-wrenching moments. Soon, the friction between them transforms into an unlikely alliance. Neither one can understand the other and yet, when their worlds collide — the ever throbbing pain of life and living cuts through their souls like a deep flesh wound, uniting them in their misery.
Gueye gets into his character’s shoes with much aplomb, often conveying more with his expressions and body language, than with words. Momo is stuck in the brash irrational behaviour pattern of a juvenile youth, but also displays a softer side — a vulnerable kid incapable of expressing himself emotionally and in dire need of affection from a motherly figure.
Among the supporting cast of actors, the characters played by Babak Karimi and Abril Zamora are fleshed out deliciously. Their acting exploits coupled with a vibrant story arc add more nuance to the tale.
Viewers are lured in by some exquisite acting and engaging cinematography, which brings alive the story of Momo and Rosa in the sunny Italian island of Bari. However, the screenplay adapted from Romain Gary’s novel The Life Before Us lacks the edge which makes the novel an interesting read. Instead, it relies on its actors to carry the film on their shoulders. Thus, despite all its initial promise, the viewers are not left fully satiated by the final experience, which is disappointing in more ways than one.
Composer Gabriel Yared provides an interesting score, which does adhere to some of the central themes being explored in the movie. That, coupled with Laura Pausini’s emotional rendition of Lo si (Seen) and the hip hop tunes blaring out of Momo’s headphones, are easy on the ears but do little else.
The Life Ahead is not a perfect movie, but still a fitting tribute to Loren’s genius and a sort of launchpad for the up-and-coming Ibrahima Gueye. Its exploration of an endearing bond forged between troubled youth and ailing senescence is just a storytelling device, a tool to chip away at the blinding ocean of emotional sorrow engulfing human beings, and an effort to explain its existence.
The Life Ahead is currently streaming on Netflix
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