There’s one clear reason to watch “The Life Ahead,” but for those who appreciate cinematic history, it’s a good one: Sophia Loren, still striking at 86, starring in this Italian-language film directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti.
The movie premieres on Netflix, which surely is dreaming of a very nostalgic Oscar nomination for an actress recognized twice before, in what would be another 30-year increment: for “Two Women” in 1961, and a career-achievement honor three decades later.
Ponti and writer Ugo Chiti adapted the movie from Romain Gary’s novel “The Life Before Us,” which was previously made into the 1977 film “Madame Rosa.” Here Loren plays the character of that title, a Holocaust survivor who takes in the children of prostitutes in the Italian town of Bari, who becomes a significant influence over a young Senegalese orphan, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), who temporarily moves in with her. Selling drugs for a local dealer, he desperately needs a few positive influences in his life, however much he might resist them.
There’s really not a whole lot more to it than that, and the boy – who delivers a wonderfully natural performance – serves as the focal point of the story, which he narrates. Yet it’s Loren who commands the screen, as Rosa snaps at him at first, before falling into spells that suggest failing health and the painful memories of the ordeal she experienced in her youth.
It’s a cliché to call an actor ageless, but anybody who didn’t know that Loren is an octogenarian – someone who starred opposite the likes of Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra and Charlton Heston – would be hard-pressed to believe it, despite a role that’s as unglamorous as it could possibly be.
In interviews, Loren – whose last feature was a little over a decade ago – has stated that she brought the project to her son, with whom she has worked on two previous movies, telling him Madame Rosa is “a wonderful character that I think maybe I could be quite good with.”
That she is. Perhaps that’s why “The Life Ahead” has the warm feel of a family affair, and a celebration of not just Loren’s contribution in this particular film, but the life, and career, behind her.
“The Life Ahead” premieres Nov. 13 on Netflix.