The Life Ahead (2020)

After a short break to celebrate Christmas, I am back with the awards season viewings. I hope everyone had a lovely time and got to spend it with the ones you love. My next review is all about a film that had much hype thanks to the comeback of the legendary Sophia Loren in this wonderful drama directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti. The Life Ahead stars Loren as Madame Rosa, an ex-prostitute and Holocaust survivor who takes in Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a young Senegalese boy after he robs her in the street. With polar opposite backgrounds and an inability to see eye to eye initially, The Life Ahead explores the developing relationship and kinship between Rosa and Momo as they begin to find common ground.

The film itself is only 95 minutes with the screenplay written by Ponti and Ugo Chiti and is based on the novel, The Life Before Us by Romain Gary. Making the most of every second, we are immediately thrust into the robbery scene by way of a flashback after being introduced to Momo who has run and hidden from Madame Rosa’s friend, Lola (Abril Zamora) with no explanation. Rather than spoon feed the audience on who is who, we are naturally introduced to characters as the story develops. We are not given all the answers in terms of background but Ponti has brought a natural approach to his writing and directing.

Seeing Sophia Loren back on the silver screen is always a welcome presence. Having made her name during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Loren won her competitive Oscar in 1961 for her leading performance in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women which is my all time favourite Lead Actress Oscar winning performance. If you haven’t seen Two Women then make sure you do as soon as you can. As the years have gone by, Loren has taken on fewer projects and The Life Ahead is her first big leading role since the early 2000s. Madame Rosa is a stern and hard woman who has survived the toughest of trials and tribulations. Living in a society where she has been ostracised and outcast, she has made herself an important staple of the community and it’s easy to see the positive impact she has, especially among those who struggle the most. Taking care of the children of prostitutes, Madame Rosa provides the support for others that she never had. Loren is revolutionary in the role and proves yet again why she is one of the best actresses of all time. Her range and ability is astonishing that completely dismisses any claim that she is nothing more than a sex symbol.

Newcomer Ibrahima Gueye is fantastic as troubled child, Momo. Struggling to find his own identity and inspiration, Momo is reluctant to move in with Madame Rosa as he fails to follow the rules initially. As he gets to know Rosa and her backstory, he begins to respect her and grows concerned when she begins to zone out and walk off. It’s not easy to act opposite a huge actress, especially one so renowned as Loren, especially if you are a newcomer but Gueye and Loren match perfectly and the friendship between them is nice to see. Gueye really holds his own as Momo is faced with his own demons, tangled in the world of drugs and learning to understand how the real world works. It is the character’s innocence mixed with Rosa’s life where the two are able to find that common ground and grow a friendship. The same could be said from the acting perspective as Gueye is a newcomer combined with Loren and it is the performances and the scenes between them that elevate the film overall.

Some reviewers have commented on the formulaic quality of the film but I actually like the simplicity of the structure and layout. When working with someone as legendary as Loren, it allows the performance to breathe and grow without becoming overwhelmed by a complex narrative. The Life Ahead is one of my highlights of the year because it feels timeless and integral at the same time. The interweaving issues of religion and identity are discussed at length without being brought forth in a clunky manner seen in a lot of films. Loren lets us feel Madame Rosa’s pain through her acting rather than through words and it is this that makes it one of the most subtle and beautiful performances of the year.

What did you think of The Life Ahead? Let me know in the comments below!

The Life Ahead is available to watch on Netflix now!

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