My mother was from Naples, Italy…a town called Benevento. When I was growing up, my mother would take me to see foreign films at a theatre close to the Italian Market in South Philly. I had a hard time following what was happening because of my limited knowledge of the Italian language. My mother would have to translate. But there was one actress that needed no translation.
The Life Ahead
Sophia Loren projected the meaning of each film with her eyes, her attitude, and her mesmerizing energy. She was my idol, and when I heard that she was in a new film and that it was directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, I knew I had to watch The Life Ahead. The film, which is based on a novel by French author, Romain Gary called La vie devant soi, was previously adapted to screen in 1977 with Simone Signoret in the title role.
Madam Rosa (Sophia Loren) is a Holocaust survivor. She was also a prostitute. Now she offers care for the children of local prostitutes. She is old, tired, and trying to make ends meet, and yet, she takes in a boy who recently robbed her at the market. The relationship between Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) and Rosa starts off in a volatile fashion. The boy, who witnessed his father murdering his mother because she refused to prostitute herself anymore, had been surviving on the streets by selling drugs. Momo, at first, is unfriendly with the other two boys under Madam Rosa’s care, but he slowly welcomes their company.
Rosa talks a local shop keeper, Mr. Hamil, into hiring Momo a few hours a day. Momo, at first, resents working for Hamil (Babak Karimi) but soon learns to respect what the shopkeeper is teaching him. Another bright light in the film is Abril Zamora, a trans actress, who plays the part of Lola, Madam Rosa’s best friend. It isn’t long before the people of the community begin to worry about Rosa’s mental deterioration. Rosa is becoming more disoriented and she often goes into a trance, remembering the horrors of the Holocaust.
All through the film, Momo has been a constant thorn in Madam Rosa’s side. He is rebellious and untrusting, but it is this boy who Madam Rosa turns to as an unexpected ally.
Sofia Villani Scicolone was only 15 years old when she did her first film. She later changed her name to Sophia Loren. She was not afraid to play unglamorous parts, as in her role as the mother in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women. Even now, in this film, her beauty is still radiant, despite her age. But we also need to talk about her young co-star, Ibrahima Gueye who was able to hold his share of the spotlight.
It would be near impossible to steal any scene from the fabulous Loren, but Gueye is able to elicit sympathy from the viewer as he maneuvers his character between being a street wise thug and a vulnerable child at the same time.
You can watch The Life Ahead on Netflix. You will not regret the experience.