Released 2020. Director: Edoardo Ponti
SOPHIA LOREN RETURNS TO GRACE THE SCREEN AT AGE 86. ONE OF THE LAST from an elite circle of classic movie stars, Loren embraces the beauty and fragility of twilight years in a movie that celebrates the ties among those who create their own family bond for support and connection.
Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti in a remake of a 1977 French film, Loren plays Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor living her final days fostering street kids from struggling migrants. Far from your typical doting grandmother lavishing hugs and kisses, Rosa can be strict and unyielding when she chooses to and doesn't tolerate nonsense and laziness. Despite her age and occasional fuzziness, Madame Rosa is not someone to be underestimated, as the kids soon discover.
The latest child brought to Rosa’s care is 12-year-old Momo, short for Mohammad, an orphan with no family after the death of his Senegalese mother. Earlier the same day, Momo robbed Rosa in a crowded marketplace, snatching her bag of candlesticks. Not the most auspicious introduction. Resisting the idea of living with an old lady, Momo reluctantly goes along because it’s a better option than social services.
Momo and Rosa tolerate each other, trading barbs every time they cross paths. To Momo, Rosa is just a crazy old lady who likes to hide in the basement which the kids dub her "batcave". Some days, Rosa’s mental faculty dims and she stares blankly in a trance, or retreats to her secret room to be surrounded by old photos and memories. She has no idea Momo sells drugs for money behind her back.
A survivor herself, Rosa has a natural empathy for the kids despite her crusty manners. She knows how to use subtle flattery to get what she wants for the benefit of the children. Momo may not welcome it at first when Rosa gets him a part time job at a shop. In time he learns the value of work and finds in the elderly shopkeeper a father figure, even tries to match-make the two senior citizens.
The unlikely friendship between Momo and Rosa is the backbone of the story and the effectiveness of the movie as a heart-warming, potentially tear-jerking drama relies heavily on the two principal actors. Loren gives Rosa an earthy aura, a woman with one foot in the grave, her mind fading slowly but holding out for the welfare of others. Ibrahima Gueye puts energy and emotions in a lively brew. Momo is angry, cheeky, sad, tough and through Rosa, finds the importance of keeping a promise, as he single-handedly busts Rosa out of hospital to honour her dying wish.
The Life Ahead is mostly a lightweight drama, a story of good intentions, delivered with sufficient pathos and drama. It never loses its focus, which is the healing effects of human relationships, or gets sidetracked too far into any subplot.
Most of the characters are loners. Besides Rosa and Momo, there’s their transgender neighbour Lola and the shopkeeper Hamil. How they manage to make each other’s life a little better is thankfully never forced or belaboured, and Edoardo Ponti keeps a steady hand to make sure his story doesn’t become syrupy. For all we know he might even have put his mother in contention for an Oscar next year. And if The Life Ahead would turn out to be Sophia Loren’s last movie, it’s not a bad choice to mark the end of a glittering career.
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