- The Life Ahead
- Directed by Edoardo Ponti
- Written by Edoardo Ponti and Ugo Chiti, based on the novel by Romain Gary
- Starring Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye and Renato Carpentieri
- Classification PG; 94 minutes
Usually while watching a film, I take copious notes. It helps in immeasurable ways, whether it’s remembering a clever bit of dialogue or a random visual that later unlocks the entirety of the production. But as I watched Edoardo Ponti’s new film The Life Ahead, I only jotted down two asides, presented here in their entirety: “Loren doesn’t miss a step,” and “CGI lion?? ooh that’s bad.”
The first note doesn’t need much explaining. In her first lead feature-film role in 16 years, Sophia Loren reminds us, quickly and expertly, just how well she can command attention. Playing a prostitute-turned-guardian of street urchins named Madame Rosa, the 86-year-old performer takes the feather-lightest of melodramatic mush and imbues it with a certain regal glamour. You don’t much believe a thing that happens in this adaptation of French author Romain Gary’s The Life Before Us – a novel already turned into the 1977 Oscar-winning movie Madame Rosa – but because Loren is anchoring the story, you can’t help but become invested.
On that CGI lion note, well, it’s just one of the head-scratching tactics that Ponti deploys in the hopes of adding something contemporary and original to the material. Here, the poorly rendered digital animal arrives as an occasional imaginary coping device to the 12-year-old Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a tough-but-empathetic Senegalese refugee who splits his time between Madame Rosa’s crumbling abode and the streets of the Southern Italian city of Bari, where he slings drugs for a local kingpin.
Will Momo and Madame Rosa forge an unlikely bond despite their differences? Will the pair learn to reconcile their uncertain futures with their traumatic pasts? Will a Diane Warren ballad play over the end credits, in the hopes of jerking whatever tears might be left in your system after a melodramatically weepy finale? I’ll let you figure it all out, if you haven’t already.
Ultimately, Ponti’s film survives on the one surprise that’s not much of a surprise at all: the power and majesty of his lead actress. And how did the director score such a casting coup? You’d have to ask his mother … Sophia Loren.
The Life Ahead opens Nov. 6 at Vancouver’s Vancity Theatre and Nov. 7 at Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema; it will be available to stream on Netflix starting Nov. 13
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.