Description: After over a decade, Sophia Loren has made a spectacular comeback on the big screen, her grace and brilliance, as always, shining above everything else.
Director: Edoardo Ponti
Main cast: Sophia Loren as Madame Rosa, Ibrahima Gueye as Momo
RT score: 9.4
IMDb rating: 6.9
Where to watch: Netflix
The movie THE LIFE AHEAD is based on Romain Gary’s 1975 book, The Life Before, and it exhibits a story about an elderly Holocaust survivor and ex-prostitute, Madame Rosa who takes in the children of local sex workers and immigrants who have either abandoned their child or do not have time to take care of them. She reluctantly takes in, a young immigrant named Momo, after the boy snatches her bag in the market.
Despite the vast difference in age and culture, the two bond in an extraordinary way, revealing the story of Madame Rosa’s past and how it molded her to what she has become to this day. The role of Madame Rosa is inhibited by the Oscar-winning actress Sophia Loren whereas Momo, excellently performed by Ibrahima Gueye.
At 86, Sophia Loren has returned to the big screen along with her Co-Star Ibrahima Gueye in her son, Edoardo Ponti’s film. Since the film is a remake of 1977’s “Madame Rosa,” the story is quite predictable, but even over the years, the grace and genius of Ms. Loren have not faded even a bit. She and her little co-star, together have truly proved that age is not a factor to define talent.
Here’s how Sophia Loren has continued to outshine in her son’s movie ‘The Life After’ bringing in all her rich experience, meticulous hard work, and timeless grace.
THE LIFE AHEAD: The Story
The storyline is based on Romain Gary’s 1975 book, The Life Before Us which is already adapted once before, in 1977’s “Madame Rosa,” starring Simone Signoret. Tedoardo Ponti does the remake of the same This is the story of a former sex worker and Holocaust survivor, who now runs a crèche at her apartment, where she looks after children. Babu and Losif are among two of those children.
Babu’s mother, Lola (played by Abril Zamora, a trans actress) is a prostitute who lives downstairs and is a very old and close friend of Madame Rosa. Lola was, as Momo informs us in voiceover, once a middleweight boxing champion, and so everyone “respected her … because if they didn’t she’d bash their faces.” The relationship created by Loren and Zamora is beautiful. You can feel the history between these two women. She picks up her toddler after work. Iosif’s mother, an immigrant, was supposed to pick him up in a week but hasn’t turned up in months.
Into Madame Rosa’s apartment comes Momo, short for Mohamed, and 14-year-old Ibrahima Gueye plays him. Momo is a Muslim refugee from Senegal, although he has no memory of his home country. His father killed his mother because she refused to work as a prostitute herself. Momo is a crude and hoodlum kid with a hard shell. When Momo moves in, angry with the world and his tough past, stubborn, and impulsive, there is friction between him and Madame Rosa. Each proudly defiant in their way. Not to mention, Madame Rosa’s exasperation at not being able to control Momo’s activities on the street or at home.
But with her failing health, Momo manages to slip out in the nights to sell drugs to his list of fast-expanding clients. It is only when he spots her one-night walking downstairs to a bunker, that he realizes that there is more to her than what meets the eye. But Madame Rosa is not a fool. She beguiles a local store-owner (played by Babak Karimi, familiar from his work in Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” and “The Salesman”), to give Momo a job a couple of days a week.
This small community of people who have been living with Madame Rosa notices her starting to deteriorate with age. But in the end, it is to Momo Madame Rosa turns when she needs it. Momo comes into her life like a little guardian angel exactly when she needed someone. “You’re a little shit,” she says to him, “but I know you keep your word.”
Elegantly aging Madame Rosa
Loren’s role as Madame Rosa is very unpredictable and constantly fluctuates between caring and cranky, imperious and hilarious, strong and fragile. Life was not easy for her, it was crammed with hardships, and it is clearly visible in her face, her actions, but she is still capable of acts demanding tremendous generosity.
Sometimes the trauma of her past events dips her in and slowly starts to swallow her up, because of this, she goes into a fugue. In such times, she feels truly broken, pondering about all the things that don’t seem real at this point. When the feeling comes up in her, it’s so sharp and immediate, and it seems to surprise even her. This is not a character who “indulges” in her emotions. She has survived by not “indulging.”
The main selling point of the story is Loren, who is an amalgamation of world-weary abrasiveness with a sense of marshmallow softness, turning Rosa into a believably divided character who masks a brave face on to what is coming while seeking refuge from the past in the little harbor of her loneliness. She commands the screen, closely observed by Angus Hudson’s camera, the never-fading charm in her eyes.
Possessed of exuberantly expressive features that can slide between rage and enchantment in an instant, Loren inhabits the role of Madame Rosa as if it was written for her, (maybe that is what Ponti saw in her and hence decided to remake the film)—bringing to the table her lifetime of experience, talent, and sense of truth.
The timeless Sophia Loren in THE LIFE AHEAD
Sophia Loren is an Italian actress who was born on 20th September 1934. A recognizable star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Sophia Loren won an Academy Award for best actress in 1962. This was for her starring role in Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women (La ciociara), she became the first actor to triumph at the Oscars in a foreign language film. Now, Loren is in the running once more, this time for a standout late-career turn in The Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé), directed by her son Edoardo Ponti.
Recently tipped by Variety as a contender for the 2021 awards, the 86-year-old could become the Academy’s oldest best actress nominee while also breaking Henry Fonda’s record for the longest gap between acting nominations (41 years).
Loren occupies a similar position as Catherine Deneuve who was an icon in her heyday, known for her beauty, her style … a “movie goddess” who could have been abandoned by an industry that doesn’t want to see its movie goddesses grow old. Deneuve continues to work on interesting, challenging projects, more so than Loren does.
“The Life Ahead” has offered a similar opportunity to Loren, allowing her freedom, grace, and space. Watching her in “The Life Ahead,” shuffling through her apartment in a loose kimono, bright glittering eyes, long grey hair flowing behind her, still elegant, still beautiful, but now old and frail, is to allow us the space to contemplate our memories of her in the past, while leaving plenty of room to celebrate who she is now.
Even at 86, she has the same level of enthusiasm, zest, and interest to work towards what she truly loves doing. This also shows us how she perceives her life as a never-ending journey of a beautiful mind, but a fading body, and rightly says “The body fades, the mind does not.”
As a young boy with tragic events, a rough past, and a hostile environment Momo has grown to be impulsive with a racing desire to change the world, which has offered him nothing but misery. The movie captures his desperation for making money that motivates him to sneak out and secretly work for an unscrupulous and exploitative drug dealer.
He calls Madame Rosa’s apartment a shithole and hates dwelling there. But with time he becomes increasingly concerned for his grumpy but caring new landlady, who is succumbing to dementia and plagued with nightmarish memories of a place Momo thinks she’s calling “Housewitch”.
Ibrahima Gueye absorbs the character of Momo and lets it seep deep into every action of his. It’s prominently visible from his lively authenticity and poise. He takes smooth flips from being aggressive to crying rivers to picking up a soft corner for Madame Rose and developing a parental concern towards her.
From holding her hand for support to hearing and seeping in everything that she has to offer to him, the experience, the life lessons, and above all, the love he never received. A very unfamiliar yet overwhelming bond is created between the two that brings us to tears.