'The Life Ahead' Is a Heartfelt Comeback for Sophia Loren

Directed by Edoardo Ponti

Starring Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Abril Zamora, Renato Carpentieri, Babak Karimi

BY Sarah Jessica Rintjema Published Nov 16, 2020

Adapted from the book The Life Before Us by Romain Gary, The Life Ahead is a drama by director Edoardo Ponti, starring his mother Sophia Loren — the Italian movie star's first feature film role in over a decade. Originally a French novel, the adaptation was filmed in Italy, where the seaside town of Bari adds a warm, romantic atmosphere to a story in which love triumphs over pain.

Orphan Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) lives under the care of a local doctor (Renato Carpentieri). He spends his days thieving through the streets of his coastal city until he steals from elderly Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), a retired sex worker running a daycare business for the children of other working women. Momo's guardian forces the boy to apologize and asks the babysitter to look after Momo, believing Rosa could be a good maternal figure for the troublesome 12-year-old. After much hesitation, the bull-headed Rosa gives in. Over time, the two develop an unlikely friendship as they bond over past traumas — Momo the abandoned son of a pimp/sex worker parentage that ended in violence, and Rosa, a Jewish Holocaust survivor. 

The Life Ahead caresses Rosa with the sort of love that could only come from a son directing his mother. Over the course of the film, Ponti leads Loren's vivacious, headstrong Madame Rosa down the path to a dementia-ridden mind, as her neighbour (Abril Zamora) and surrogate children assist her as she declines. The once tenacious figure turns confused, often disappearing into old memories — some tranquil in nature, others painting the horrifying portrait of a terrified young Rosa in Auschwitz. Every performance in The Life Ahead is stunningly believable, and Gueye proves himself to be a powerful young actor with a strong future ahead.

Just as it's on its way to becoming great, The Life Ahead falters when Momo and Rosa's relationship becomes rushed. The film runs for an hour and a half, and falls short of what's needed to complete the narrative. While leaving viewers wanting more is the marker of a quality story, we're left wondering how a formerly hostile relationship between two characters with concrete defences suddenly crumbled for one another. An underdeveloped drama often collapses into melodrama, and when paired with such heavy imagery as poverty, abuse and severe trauma, the portrayal of these topics risks appearing cheap.

The Life Ahead is a character piece where the majority of its successes can be attributed to its stellar performances and heart-driven story, where the forgotten find a sense of home within their makeshift family. Grab your tissues!

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