The Life Ahead is a pleasant melodrama which sees a star return to the screen and introduces another…
The Life Ahead is Edoardo Ponti’s adaptation of the 1975 novel, The Life Before Us, by Romain Gary. Starring his mother, and Hollywood Golden Age star, Sophia Loren, Ponti directs a modern-day retelling of this tale of psychological trauma and empathy. Loren leads as Madame Rosa, an Auschwitz survivor, and former prostitute, who takes in a young Senegalese orphan named Momo, played by newcomer Ibrahima Gueye. What begins as an initially difficult relationship between the two, eventually blossoms into one of compassion and mutual reliance.
After a ten-year hiatus, Loren returns to the screen in a role entirely suited for her. The charisma and defiance of the matriarchal figures she has become synonymous with is in abundance here. She is entirely believable as the ageing neighbourhood grandmother-type, who makes ends meet by providing an informal daycare service for the kids of prostitutes. Introduced to twelve-year-old Momo by her doctor the pair initially clash heads, but soon realise they are more alike than they first believed – both afflicted by the trauma of their pasts. Madame Rosa is succumbing to dementia and her reality is becoming warped with her memories from Auschwitz. Similarly, Momo, who is consumed with rage following a personal tragedy, struggles to engage with those around him.
In a debut performance, Gueye is striking in his embodiment of a child full of anger and despair who finds solace in this motherly figure. Ponti employs surrealist imagery to emphasise Momo’s yearning for his mother, however, I found much of this imagery (created through the use of CGI) unnecessarily explanatory and clunky. Nonetheless, I appreciated the bold visual decision and the wider look of the film overall. The pastel hues complemented the seaside town within which the story was set, whilst the soft, warm lighting ensured that the more humorous aspects of the film did not feel out of place.
Whilst a pleasant watch, The Life Ahead lacked any of the grit you would expect from a film with such complex characters. Indeed, the basic plot premise of two individuals from differing backgrounds, cultures, or social spheres, uniting through empathy and friendship, is one audiences are undoubtedly familiar with – if not from the original novel (or the 1977 film adaptation), then from similar, recent hits such as The Intouchables (2011). However, unlike the latter, The Life Ahead does not hone in on the more dark and troubling specifics of its story.
Momo, for example, is working for a local crime boss, who has the young child selling drugs at school and on the street. However, the exploitation and manipulation which would be at play within such a relationship are never displayed. Instead, we are provided a cheesy montage of Momo laughing and dancing with this supposedly ruthless criminal. Ponti also alludes to the racial and sociopolitical issues present within modern Italian (and wider, European) society, as we are shown glimpses of refugees and illegal immigrants being mistreated. However, any political commentary ceases here.
Despite its faults, The Life Ahead succeeds in returning an icon to the screen and puts her alongside a bright, young talent.
The Life Ahead is available to stream on Netflix.