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“The Life Ahead” Re-Introduces Audiences To The Great Sophia Loren

It’s always a pleasure to see a screen legend return to starring roles. For Sophia Loren, we haven’t seen her on the screen in a major way in over a decade, since her supporting appearance in Nine. Now, she’s back as a lead, showcasing her talents in Netflix’s latest awards contender, the international feature The Life Ahead. A movie built around her, and one that aptly showcases her, it’s a contender not just potentially in Best International Feature, but in Best Actress for Loren as well. Hitting the streaming service today, it’s well worth a watch, if only to see Loren in action once again, proving she hasn’t missed a beat.

The film is a drama, based on the novel The Life Before Us, which has twice been adapted already before this. Taking place in an Italian seaside town, a 12-year-old street kid named Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) is skirting by, engaging in petty crime. A doctor (Renato Carpentieri) who looks after him needs to find a more permanent solution, so he asks one of his patients, Madame Rosa (Loren), a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business, looking after the children of prostitutes. She and Momo are not a match, initially, not least of all because Momo recently robbed her, but things soon thaw a bit. The more that he learns about Madame Rosa and her past, the more his heart opens up to her. Edoardo Ponti (Loren’s son) directs a screenplay he co-wrote with Ugo Chiti and Fabio Natale, adapting Romain Gary’s book. Supporting players here include Francesco Cassano, Babak Karimi, Massimiliano Rossi, and Abril Zamora. Angus Hudson handles the cinematography, Gabriel Yared provides the score, and Diane Warren contributes an original song, as well.

Sophia Loren, obviously, is terrific here. Working with her son Edoardo Ponti, Loren dives deep into a strong role, imbuing it with a lifetime of experience. In some ways, this is an exclamation point on her long and illustrious career. Already an Academy Award winner, she may well score another Oscar nomination for this role. She’s stern and has a screen presence that only comes with time, so this came to her at the perfect moment. It’s one of the best performances of Loren’s career, which is really saying something. Ponti knows what his mother is capable of and just lets her have at it, with sterling results.

The Life Ahead is at its best when Loren is the focus. That kind of goes without saying, but especially in the first act, it’s distinctly clear. Now, Ibrahima Gueye isn’t bad, but his character Momo can be a bit on the annoying side. That’s where Ponti’s miscalculation really is, as Gueye isn’t nearly as compelling as Loren. So, the more time we spend with Momo away from Madame Rosa, the more that the movie suffers. It’s not a major amount of suffering, but it is what prevents a good flick from becoming a great one, and that’s at least somewhat notable.

Now streaming on Netflix, The Life Ahead is a decently good film made much better by Sophia Loren. Given a showcase here, she knocks it out of the park. If you’re a fan of Loren’s or have enjoyed her work in the past, this is one not to miss. Loren is going to get an awards season push from Netflix, but beyond that, she’s a screen legend who deserved to be celebrated. Working with her filmmaker son, the movie that resulted from it is certainly worthy of some praise. Give it a look!

Be sure to check out The Life Ahead, streaming on Netflix today!

(Photos courtesy of Netflix)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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