Mortality and The Life Ahead

After ten years, Sophia Loren has returned to film – and it feels like she never left.

The Life Ahead, a 2020 film available to stream on Netflix, marks Loren’s third collaboration with her son, director Edoardo Ponti. The film, full of the life and color and architecture only Italy can provide, offers heart-wrenching drama to any viewer with a soul.

A shot from The Life Ahead, available to stream on Netflix.

The story is based on the novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary and the 1977 film Madame Rosa, and centers on a young orphan boy (Momo) who robs a Holocaust survivor and is subsequently taken in by her. A gentle but firm woman, Madame Rosa manages to soothe the scars left on young Momo – and soften his walled-off exterior.

Sophia Loren (Madame Rosa) remains an enthralling presence on screen – time has had no impact on her ability to catch and keep the viewer’s eye on her the moment she enters the frame. When it comes to internationally-acclaimed cinema, she is one of the last left from her era, a dynamic force we should count ourselves lucky to witness.

Ibrahima Gueye, who stars in his first role as 12-year-old Momo, brings a nuanced performance to screen and highlights the existence of young actors with actual talent. The audience can see him thinking when he’s not speaking, and Gueye succeeds in showing us his struggles through a deep-seated trauma endured at an even younger age.

Director Ponti offers audiences a glimpse into the diverse complications that enter life without warning – and illustrates the precious nature of life’s gift. He directs with intention, capturing intimate moments up close and larger-than-life moments from afar.

The performances and cinematography are enchanting in The Life Ahead – but what really pulls everything together is the script. Despite rare mentions of romance, there is love behind every word – and the audience witnesses how vital a nurturing presence can be as long as it comes from a place of sincerity and honesty.

For the optimal viewing experience, I would recommend watching the film in its original language (Italian) with English subtitles. As acclaimed Oscar-winning director Bong Joon Ho said, “once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

If you are a lover of movies, don’t be afraid to occasionally allow some spice, some foreign influence, some outside culture to enter your life through the cinema. As The Life Ahead shows us, we only have so much of it.

A drama through and through, the audience is left with questions only we can answer for ourselves after viewing.

What lies waiting in front of us? What have we made of or done with what we leave behind? What will we do with what is to come?

In spite of, or maybe because of his youth, Momo learns several lessons through the course of The Life Ahead. In light of everything going on in the world presently, personally I am left with one more question: will we?

Film: The Life Ahead
Year: 2020
Genre: Drama
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned, Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13) for some thematic content, drug material involving minors, some sexual material and language
Currently available to watch/stream on Netflix
Directed by Edoardo Ponti
Written by Ugo Chiti and Edoardo Ponti
Based on the novel The Life Before Us by Romain Gary

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