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Netflix Review: The Life Ahead

April 20, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

2021 Academy Award nominee for Best Original Song – “Io Sì (Seen)”

Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, The Life Ahead mainly serves as a late-career showcase for Italian actress Sophia Loren. Now in the twilight of her career, it’s easy to think of the film as a sort of swan song for her, and it is quite effective on these grounds.

The film focuses on the friendship that forms between two very different characters; Madame Rosa (Loren), an aging Holocaust survivor in Italy who has devoted her final years to looking after the children of sex workers, and Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a troubled street kid from Senegal.

The inciting incident happens when he steals her bags at the market, and the boy’s guardian Dr. Coen (Rinato Carpentieri), a close personal friend of Madame Rosa’s, marches him over to her place to apologize. He also has a favour to ask, and requests that she watch over the young thief for the next two months, believing that what the boy needs is a strong female figure in his life.

At first, Momo clashes with Madame Rosa and takes out his anger on the other boys she is looking after, and is resentful of having to stay with her despite the fact she is giving him food and shelter. This feeling is mutual, with Madame Rosa viewing him as ungrateful and more trouble than he is worth. But, as Momo and Madame Rosa come to recognize what the other one has gone through, he starts to soften up towards her and she comes to trust him. While the story itself is somewhat predictable, The Life Ahead works thanks to the strength of its performances, and the tenderness of the bond that forms between its two main characters.

Loren is wonderful in the role of Madame Rosa, portraying a woman who still has fire left in her, but is also starting to slow down and come to terms with the end of her life. Ponti does a fine job of directing his mother, guiding her to a finely etched performance that is effective both in the bigger moments and quiet dramatic scenes. Gueye, a relative newcomer, is also able to hold his own alongside Loren, and delivers a good performance that helps elevate the film.

The film ends on a touching note with the Oscar-nominated song “Io Si (Seen)”, which was written by Diane Warren (netting her a record twelfth Oscar nomination with no wins), and is sung in Italian by its co-writer Laura Pausini. Yes, the song primarily plays over the end credits, but the way that it comes in over the last few frames of the film is actually quite poignant.

The Life Ahead is now available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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