December 1, 2020

Sophia Loren in “The Life Ahead” on Netflix

Netflix’s offering of the movie, “The Life Ahead,” is creating quite a buzz. Not only does it feature the iconic Italian actress, Sophia Loren at age 87, but the director is her son Edouardo Ponti.

Is it the greatest movie ever? No, but it has enough redeeming qualities to invest roughly 90 minutes of your time. Momo, a Senegalese-Italian orphan played by first-time film actor, Ibrahim Gueye, has a natural presence that makes up for his inexperience as a thespian. We have noble plot lines galore. Loren as Madame Rosa is a survivor of Auschwitz and a retired prostitute who has been a foster mother to the children of working girls. She provides daycare for Babu, the son of her transgender neighbor, Lola, along with a Jewish boy named Iosif who was abandoned by his mother.

The heart of the movie is the friendship that develops between Madame Rosa and Momo. The young orphan is pulled in the direction of drug-dealing for one man, and doing more honest work for a kindly Arab artisan who patiently introduces him to his birth family’s Muslim faith.

As a side note, the American film world tends to retire actors as they age, and the tendency is even more stark for actresses. Try to think of women who have had major roles in their 80s. Maggie Smith and Judy Dench (both 85) spring to mind, but the big screen tends to be geared towards more youthful appearances. Streaming productions, however, have opened up new avenues for senior actors. Witness the success of Jane Fonda (82) and Lily Tomlin (81) in “Grace and Frankie,” or Alan Arkin (86) in “The Kominsky Method” and the late Max Von Sydow who was 87 when he was in “Game of Thrones.”

TWO WOMEN, Sophia Loren, 1960

Back to a final word on “The Life Ahead.” It certainly gives you a slice of Italian culture. I would also suggest you watch Loren’s Academy Award-winning performance in Vittorio DeSica’s 1960 film, “Two Women,” not to note how she has aged in the intervening decades, but to see that she still has the vibrant screen presence that has made her an international screen treasure.

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