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The Life Ahead Review

In an Italian seaside town, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), a former prostitute who now runs a children’s home, is mugged by 12-year-old street kid Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) She is persuaded to take Momo in, the latter becoming part of Rosa’s deeply unconventional family.

The Life Ahead is a big broad tear-jerker that exists for a single reason: as a vehicle for the grace and majesty of Sophia Loren. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, it is a valentine to both her talent and career, a reminder of the big emotional roles (Two WomenDivorce Italian Style) she mastered and a showcase for her often-underrated skill in inhabiting a character and moving an audience. The film around her is conventional and manipulative but Loren, through sheer presence alone, makes you care.

Based on Romain Gary’s 1977 novel ‘The Life Before Us’, the story kicks in when Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a motherless Senegalese pre-teen grifting on the streets of Bari, steals the handbag of Madame Rosa (Loren) in a bustling market. Rosa, a former prostitute who runs a home looking after the children of sex workers, is asked to take the tearaway in by a caring doctor (Renato Carpentieri), What follows is a predictable melodrama as the pair go from antipathy to co-dependence, both helping to heal each other’s past pains. While Rosa provides Momo with a roof and life away beyond running errands for the local drug lord, Momo also acts as an anchor for Rosa, who is suffering from deteriorating physical health and the corroding effects of dementia: her basement is a bric-a-brac-filled sanctuary that becomes a safe haven from her scarring memories of the Holocaust.

The arc and beats here are obvious, but brought to life by a colorful gallery of supporting characters — Abril Zamora as Rosa’s sparky transgender neighbor is a standout — and the two leads. Gueye is a striking presence who finds more grounded notes than the honeyed hues and overblown score suggests. But this is Loren’s film and she lends Rosa a saltiness and vulnerability, mixed with the magnetism you only get with a true legend. In fact, it is impossible to think what The Life Ahead would be without her.

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