Sophia Loren brings war memories in “The Life Ahead”

Eight months ago, Netflix recorded The Life Ahead, the third collaboration between Italian USC graduate Edoardo Ponti and his mother, two-time Oscar winner Sophia Loren, and came back for the first time in nearly a decade at the age of 86 back the screen. It’s easy to see why the streamer wanted to buy the Italian film. Like the foreign-language Oscar winner “Madame Rosa” from 1977 with Simone Signoret, Ponti’s film is adapted from Romain Gary’s French novel “Life Before Us” from 1975. He moved the setting from France to a contemporary Italian seaside town in the 1970s, but the story is similar.

Madame Rosa is a tough Auschwitz survivor and former prostitute who cares for the children of street runners. Her doctor asks her to take care of a grumpy 12 year old orphan Muslim who reluctantly returns her filtered purse. At first glance, the Sudanese boy seems adamant about arguing with her other children and selling drugs to school children for a local dealer. But Madame Rosa is a worthy opponent, as she and her warm neighborhood allies inevitably bring him around.

The beautiful film (which was completed during the pandemic) tells the heartbreaking story in an uncomplicated, naturalistic way. The immigration drama about marginalized outsiders resonates; If Italy submits the film for Best International Feature Film, it would do well for the academy’s voters, and if not, Loren could still get her third best actress nomination.

In 1962 Loren was the first actor to win an Oscar for a foreign language film for Vittorio De Sica’s neo-realistic war drama “Two Women”. She made a long career, working with Marlon Brando, Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Charlie Chaplin and Sidney Lumet, among others.

In 1965 she was nominated again for the rough comedy “Marriage Italian Style” alongside Marcello Mastroianni and in 1991 she received an honorary Oscar. Last autumn she returned to Hollywood to present Lina Wertmüller with an honorary Oscar. the daughter of the movie star Ingrid Bergman and the Italian director Roberto Rossellini.

“Life Ahead”


Netflix asked Rossellini to host a Zoom panel discussion with Loren, who this time went hand in hand with her director, the son of her late producer husband Carlo Ponti. “I love working with my son,” she said. “I always want to work with my son. The soul that we have in common. ”

To play Madame Rosa, Loren drew on her own wartime experiences in Naples with her sister and mother, who suffered from nightly bombings. For his part, Ponti said he internalized his mother’s “objective” feedback on his early scriptwriting efforts. He knew what she could do, but he was also trying to give her new challenges.

While Loren understood the rigors of working with non-professionals from her time at De Sica, it was a challenge for the veteran of 120 films to take on the non-professional Ibrahima Gueye, who was the first of 350 children, that of Ponti were auditioned. The Senegalese emigrant was so annoyed that he had to act meanly towards Loren, whom he adored, that he had to ask her permission. Ponti let the ensemble live together so they could get to know each other better.

Isabella Rossellini interviews Sophia Loren and her director’s son Edoardo Ponti

“My mother doesn’t take anything for granted,” said Ponti. “She approaches every film like her first. There is no blunted bone in her body. She gives everything. I could see how she grew up, how scared she was for taking care of it. That was a lesson: embrace fear, it means you care. ”

Rossellini admitted wishing she had worked more with her mother, whom Loren remembered when she met in London. Rossellini asked Loren and Ponti to make another film. “I don’t think I’ll stop,” said Loren. “I will be forever.”

The Life Ahead will have a limited theatrical release in theaters in November before streaming on Netflix on Friday, November 13th.

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