Review: The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé)

Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead

The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé) marks the return of Sophia Loren to film after a decade away. This Italian drama about an immigrant boy was directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti. At 86, Loren possesses all the charisma, power, and presence that made her world famous as a younger woman.

The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé) is a love story. It’s a story about the transformative power of love, and about the empathy that sustains the lost and forgotten. If ever the world needed a story about the benefits of love and empathy, it is right now.

Ibrahima Gueye and Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead

Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) is a street kid, a Senegalese orphan. He sees a pair of valuable looking candlesticks in Madame Rosa’s (Sophia Loren) bag and snatches them to sell.

Later a doctor (Renato Carpentieri) brings Momo to Madame Rosa’s house, wanting her to take him in. She earns her living by caring for the children of prostitutes. The doctor has been assigned to care for Momo, but can’t handle him and thinks Rosa can – she’s tough and demands respect. Rosa is a Holocaust survivor, Jewish, and a former prostitute. She currently has two other children in her care and very reluctantly takes Momo, the thief.

We travel the streets with Momo as he sells drugs and works for a Muslim shopkeeper (Babak Karimi) who begins teaching him what it means to be a Muslim.

Ibrahima Gueye and Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead

Slowly, Momo realizes he likes it at Madame Rosa’s. He begins to see her fragility, her vulnerability. He wants to take care of her, as much as a 12 year old boy can do that. He’s learning how to be part of a community of people who look out for each other.

A prostitute named Lola (Abril Zamora) lives in the building. A little girl in Rosa’s care calls her mommy. Lola looks after Rosa, too. One of the lovelier scenes in the film is Lola dancing with Rosa. It ends with a laugh as the kids discover a sex toy in Lola’s purse.

Watching this dance really touches Momo because one of his few memories of his mother was of dancing with her.

As Momo and Rosa work their magic on each other, the story moves gently toward an ending both sad and happy.

The Life Ahead poster

It was wonderful and inspring to me to see Sophia Loren carry this quiet story with such brilliance. The chemistry that she developed with first time actor Ibrahima Gueye as Momo was beautiful. I shouldn’t give Sophia Loren all the credit here, because it really is Momo’s story. He’s the one who has to work out what to do with the life ahead.

Sophia Loren hasn’t had “work” done on her appearance. She’s aged naturally and she’s all the more beautiful for it. Other things about this production strike me as beautiful too. The Italian (that is, Catholic) setting with Jews and Muslims working together to protect children. The transgender prostitute who frets about taking her daughter home to meet her grandfather. The eternal trauma of the Holocaust and its impact on the present. In many ways this is a simple, straightforward story. But it contains strong messages under the surface.

You can see The Life Ahead on Netflix. There’s an interesting article at Netflix Queue about the film and the actors. It’s an interview by Isabella Rossellini.

The Life Ahead poster

Here’s a look at the trailer.

Have you watched this one already? Do you plan to watch it? Please share your thoughts.

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