Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Life Ahead (2020) Film Review
The Life Ahead
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Growing old after having been an international sex symbol is a difficult feat to pull off with style. Where some of her contemporaries have gone all out to cling to the appearance of youth with cosmetic surgery, and others have simply hidden away from the world, Sophia Loren has shown that for her it was always the craft of acting that mattered, not stardom for its own sake. Here she sheds the vestiges of glamour for a gem of a role, playing Madame Rosa, a woman whose difficult life has made her tough as nails, yet who still has a soft spot in her heart for a boy with troubles of his own.
She first encounters the boy, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), in the local marketplace, where he snatches her bag. Though he flees the scene, he doesn't get away with it. The doctor (Renato Carpentieri) who has taken it upon himself to watch over him uncovers his misdeed and makes him return his ill-gotten gains. The doctor, like Madam Rosa, is in his final years, and has to travel, so he knows he can't keep looking after the boy. Madame Rosa runs a daycare centre, so he offers her a considerable sum to take in Momo and provide him with full board. Naturally she's reluctant. Naturally the viewer can see where this is going, but there's still plenty to enjoy.
Madame Rosa's daycare centre is not like most. A former sex worker, she looks after the children of other sex workers, many of whom face additional forms of social exclusion. Some are immigrants whose children struggle to communicate with the others. One is a trans woman with a broken marriage who has herself become a pat of this impromptu family. Although it takes a while for Momo to work out what it is that makes Madame Rosa reluctant to speak about her own past, viewers will not be surprised to learn that she's a holocaust survivor. Perhaps she sees something of herself in the orphaned, immigrant boy who is ready to do whatever he must to survive and carve out a place for himself in the world.
Gueye is quite a find, confident and charismatic enough to convince as the only person in the city who can really stand up to Madame Rosa - and, perhaps, reawaken feelings she long ago learned to do without. If there is any justice in the world, he'll have a long career ahead of him, and he's the perfect foil for a woman coming to the end of hers, helping to draw out one of the finest performances we've seen from her in years.
The tangle of lives at the heart of this story gives the film room to touch on lots of different social issues but it always remains character-driven. Madame Rosa is constantly having to come up with new ways to make ends meet. Momo is tempted by the prospect of a career in crime more lucrative than the petty theft we see at the outset. Around them, the city teems with life. Edoardo Ponti's assured direction presents us with a bustling world which is, on the one hand, filled with opportunities and on the other, a place where it is easy to get swept away. By recognising their similarities and looking out for one another, its central characters find a way to survive, find meaning, and find joy.Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2021