The Life Ahead
The Life Ahead marks the return of Hollywood Golden Age star Sophia Loren after over a decade away from cinema. Of course, infrequently making movies at 86 years old gives a sense that every film could be her final project. Should this Italian social realist drama be Loren’s last, she would be leaving us with yet another brilliant performance to add to a full career – after having given her talented young screen partner the visibility he deserves.
Oftentimes, an actor on hiatus returns to the screen because the project has some great value in the character or narrative. However, Loren would have starred in this picture even if it was a remake of Cats – and her reason for coming back is much simpler and sweeter: the director, Edoardo Ponti, is her son. Together they’ve worked on several projects and this Netflix feature is their most high-profile collaboration yet.
The film revolves around the relationship between Madame Rosa (Loren), a Holocaust survivor who runs a daycare business and 12-year-old street kid Momo (played by striking debutant Ibrahima Gueye). The former’s maternal instincts towards the latter could well be inspired by Ponti’s own relationship with his famous mother. This is evinced in the actor’s deeply sympathetic performance – nurturement being a natural process for her.
This drama suffers from a clichéd premise with few deviations from a familiar formula – the Gemma Arterton romance Summerland from earlier this year covered similar territory with a considerably more varied structure. The depiction of an orphaned black kid being rescued from a life of crime by an elderly white woman is the kind of tired old story that would have flown many years ago. However, it doesn’t have the same resonance now, as global audiences have an appetite for better minority representation in storytelling.
Narrative issues aside, the greatest achievement of the mushy tale in The Life Ahead is that it allows the two leads to function at their best. The work should be seen solely to relish the lead performances, one of a cinematic icon and the other of a rising star. Loren is sublime and Gueye matches her potency with a portrayal of which few child actors would be capable. Their interplay shows top-tier talent, linked through multiple generations of cinematic history. It’s a pleasure to watch.
The Life Ahead is released on Netflix on 13th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Life Ahead here