REVIEW: Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor, runs a daycare for children of immigrants and other prostitutes. But when Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri) approaches her to take in Momo (Ibrahma Gueye), a 12-year-old Senegalese refugee boy, she is reluctant. Earlier that day, Momo had stolen her purse with silver chandeliers, throwing it in the street. But she eventually reluctantly agrees when he offers her good money and a fixed time of just two months to have him in his care.
Rooms and space are at a premium at Madame Rosa’s and it is obvious that she barely manages, but the children, Babu and Iosif, seem to be well and well cared for.
Babu’s mother, Lola (Abril Zamora), is a prostitute who lives downstairs and picks up her little boy after work. Iosif’s mother, an immigrant, was to pick him up in a week, but hasn’t returned in months. When Momo walks in, angry, stubborn, and rude, there is friction between the two. Not to mention Madame Rosa’s exasperation at not being able to really control Momo’s activities on the street or at home. She gets him a day job in a shop, run by his friend Hamil (Baba Karimi), so she doesn’t need to keep an eye on him all the time. But with her health failing, Momo manages to sneak out at night to sell drugs to her rapidly expanding client list. Only when he sees her one night walking down the stairs to a bunker does he realize that there is more to her than meets the eye.
With ‘The Life Ahead’, Sophia Loren returns to the screen after ten years, convincingly, to be directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti. Having started her career in the 1950s, the acting genius, who won a best actress Oscar for Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Two Women’ in 1961, was the first actor / actress to do so for a performance in a language. Foreign. Since then, Sophia Loren has had an illustrious career spanning seven decades. Even at 86, her screen presence is electrifying, with her signature winged eyeliner intact. Like Madame Rosa, she radiates strength and vulnerability in equal measure. As his mind begins to recede into the depths of dementia, he finds himself reliving memories of the horrors he faced at Auschwitz. And in those moments, he retires to his safe place. Sophia Loren puts on a masterful performance as we see her wrestling from side to side with her mind. There are no big dramatic changes in ‘The Life Ahead’, but mild moments of transformation when Momo starts to worry about her. Ibrahma Gueye as Momo makes a remarkable debut, as he effortlessly plunges into the metamorphosis of his character. Babak Karimi as Hamil and Abril Zamora as Lola also stand out with their heartfelt performances.
Adapted from Romain Gary’s novel, The Life Before Us, the film’s narrative, although it falls a bit short in removing all nuances. And despite a soundtrack peppered with hip hop numbers and Laura Pausini’s poignant Italian song Lo Si (Seen), the beat sometimes drops. However, there are swathes of heartwarming moments in the movie that might even make you cry. In a beautiful bonding scene, Madame Rosa tells Momo, “I would give up all my memories, if I could just keep this one,” while recalling the trees outside her childhood home filled with yellow mimosa.
‘The Life Ahead’ is a human story about love and an unlikely bond that is heartbreaking, poignant, and poignant. And the brilliant performance of Sophia Loren shines above all else.