The Life Ahead

 

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A film notable for the fact that it gives another starring role to Sophia Loren.

 
Life Ahead, The

Ibrahima Gueye and Sophia Loren

  

In 1977 Moshe Mizrahi made the film Madame Rosa, an adaptation of a novel by Romain Gary starring Simone Signoret and, despite meeting with a mixed critical reception, it went on to win an Oscar in 1978 as best foreign film. Now we have a fresh treatment of the same material transferred to an Italian setting. Not having read the book (nor indeed having seen the earlier film), I cannot say if the screenplay for The Life Ahead does justice to the original but, given Gary's fame, it does emerge as a surprisingly routine piece. As told here, it is the story of a 12-year-old orphan boy from Senegal, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), and the redemptive influence on him of the elderly Madame Rosa, that being the role now played by Sophia Loren.

 

We first encounter the young Momo as a thief who not only steals from Madame Rosa but is also revealed to be dealing drugs on behalf of a local crook, Raspa (Massimiliano Rossi). Doctor Coen (Renato Carpemtieri), who had been attempting to look after the child, decides that rather than hand Momo over to the social services he should be passed into the care of Madame Rosa herself. Once a streetwalker, in her old age Madame Rosa has built a reputation as somebody keen to take in outcast chidden, especially those who have lost their mothers to prostitution. She can be sharp and demanding but agrees to house Momo alongside another boy already there, Iosif (Iosif Diego Pirvu), who retains the possibly unfounded hope that his Romanian mother will return for him. Madame Rosa also helps to take care of the very young Babu who is the child of her friend and neighbour Lola (Abril Zamora), a transgender hooker.

 

Although ready to take advantage and initially cynical in his attitude to Madame Rosa, Momo comes to form a bond with her and tries to help when her health deteriorates. This change of attitude on his part is not unconnected with what he learns of what she had to endure in her youth in Auschwitz. The Life Ahead refuses to be overly-sentimental in tone, but the story as told feels more akin to an emotional tale designed to appeal to those who like that kind of fiction rather than being a work rooted in anything deeply real or profound - and not even the passing references to the Holocaust alter that. The direction by Edoardo Ponti (who is indeed Sophia Loren's son) is competent enough for the most part although the film does go off the rails when it lets us actually see a lioness dreamed up by Momo as a comforting creature that cares for him. An occasional use of songs on the soundtrack also seems out of key with the general tone of the piece.

 

However, in the last analysis and despite able contributions from the other players who also include Babak Karimi as a sympathetic Muslim shopkeeper, the real reason for seeing The Life Ahead is the re-emergence at the age of 86 of Sophia Loren in a feature film intended for the cinema. It is the first time since her relatively brief appearance in the undervalued musical Nine (2009) although it follows a short piece also made with her son, a version of Cocteau's The Human Voice since done by Almodóvar with Tilda Swinton. By its very nature the role of Madame Rosa has, I think, less impact than James Cagney had when he in his eighties resurfaced in Ragtime (1981) and, if Loren were to win an Oscar for this as some have forecast, it would surely be for old times' sake. However, despite any limitations in the material, The Life Ahead confirms that Loren retains authority and undiminished presence in front of the camera. Her admirers will not be sorry that she has chosen to appear in this film.

 

Original title: La vita davanti a sé.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Babak Karimi, Massimiliano Rossi, Abril Zamora, Renato Carpentieri, Iosif Diego Pirvu, Francesco Cassano.

 

Dir Edoardo Ponti, Pro Carlo Degli Esposti, Regina K. Scully, Nicola Serra and Lynda Weinman, Screenplay Ugo Chiti, Fabio Natale and Edoardo Ponti, from the novel by Romain Gary, Ph Angus Hudson, Pro Des Maurizio Sabatini, Ed Jacopo Quadri, Music Gabriel Yared, Costumes Ursula Patzak.

 

Palomar/Artemis Rising Foundation-Netflix.
94 mins. Italy. 2020. Rel: 13 November 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.