Friday, November 13, 2020

The Life Ahead - Review

In 2020, it’s no surprise that Netflix has scooped up so many big awards contenders to stream directly into the homes of its millions of subscribers. And as the year draws to a close, those acquisitions will slowly start to trickle out with each passing week. This weekend, it’s The Life Ahead, an Italian film adapted from the 1975 French novel “The Life Before Us” that stars the legendary Sophia Loren, gracing the screen for the first time in a decade. 

Opposite her is the other half of the odd couple at the center of this narrative, newcomer Ibrahima Gueye, playing Momo, a Senegalese boy who seems to bring trouble wherever he goes. At the start, Gueye is tasked with showcasing just how angry one can be at the world, filled with scowls, cursing, and a general disdain for any semblance of kindness shone in his direction. However, as the film progresses and  the relationship builds with his new caretaker, he begins to soften ever so slightly and allow Gueye to really illustrate his budding talent opposite an icon.

On its face, the premise for The Life Ahead seems like a paint by numbers, sentimental film. An orphaned immigrant kid is taken in by a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute to save him from a life of crime. It checks numerous boxes on the prestige qualifier list in just one brief sentence, but where the film excels is in its performances and the direction from Edoardo Ponti. 

The Life Ahead marks the long overdue return for the 86-year-old Sophia Loren, but it’s also her second collaboration with her son, director Edoardo Ponti. And what an ideal role to return to the screen for. While many actresses of her age are thrust into the role of grandmother, loving or otherwise, Loren gets to play the independent woman fighting through the traumas of her past. It’s a vulnerable performance, never too boisterous or spirited, but always from the heart and full of emotion, and destined to land her in awards conversations when the time comes.

Unfortunately, the film is as predictable as it sounds. From the opening moments, any one that has ever seen a film could probably see where it’s all headed, and yet the solid direction from Ponti makes you forget how overused the setup is. It’s not flashy by any means, but he possesses a sensitive touch that allows the themes to shine through. It’s a film of loss and pain, and how they manifest across different generations. It’s about how people carry that weight with them, through anger at everyone and everything or through a haunted lens of life long past. 

It’s still unclear whether Italy will submit The Life Ahead as its International Feature contender for the Oscars, a nomination it would likely get with Netflix backing it, but voters are certainly likely to take notice of Loren at the very least. It’s far from revelatory, but it’s a film worth your time for the strong debut of Ibrahima Gueye and the end to the 11-year absence of Sophia Loren. 

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