The renowned Italian actress, Sophia Loren, is back on the big screen, her first major movie role in more than a decade, and it’s a delight to see her. Think back to an early career when she burned up the screen showing a sultry sexiness that had men panting and women churning with jealousy. But La Loren was more than just physical adornment, she displayed acting acumen that made her an international star (Best Actress Oscar, “Two Women” 1961).
At the age of 86, and even in an unglamorous role but with a generous heart, Loren’s screen presence remains undiminished. Industry buzz is building about a Best Actress Oscar nomination for “The Life Ahead” directed by her son Edoardo Ponti. The drama is a fit for “la famiglia”. Mom brought the project to Edoardo with whom she has worked on two previous movies. She says, “It’s a wonderful character that I think maybe I could be quite good with.” Apart from the emotional thrust of the narrative, its reported Loren took on some physically demanding scenes.
“The Life Ahead” is centered in the seaport of Bari on the eastern coast of Italy where shipments of goods and immigrants’ land. Loren’s character Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and past prostitute, looks after the children of other sex workers. She reluctantly undertakes the den mother responsibilities partnered with her good friend Lola. It’s a meager existence supporting Rosa’s sparse life style and fulfilling her maternal instincts.
A fellow charity worker, who is her doctor and also an old acquaintance, suggests Rosa accommodate a street urchin from Senegal. Momo had snatched Rosa’s handbag, and as penance, was forced to apologize. He is distressed, confused and angry at the world, aimlessly walking the streets every day trapped in the clutches of a ruthless drug dealer.
A thorny intergenerational friendship develops. Though his new landlady is caring, Momo considers Rosa grumpy, a sign of her creeping dementia accompanied by nightmares rooted in troubling memories. Ethnic differences also trespass. Momo is a Muslim who shuns the religion he inherited. Cultural differences gradually dissolve into shared tolerance, creating a durable odd couple bonding devoid of melodrama.
Loren reigns with a pleasurable performance, a treat for those of us who admire her work. She’s been off the screen for a decade so its satisfying to welcome her back in a role worthy of her talents. The give and take exchanges with young newcomer Ibrahima Gueye, underline dramatic and comedic elements driving the coming-of-age narrative
Those toiling as caregivers to seniors in their final years can feel empathy towards their physical conditions, being cautious about the care required. “The Life Ahead,” currently screening on Netflix, poignantly delineates the power of humanity in variance with class and race by dramatizing the complex relationship swirling around Rosa and Momo.
Donna Skelly, my CHCH-TV colleague at the time, joined me in a spirited on camera conversation with the screen icon during her Hamilton visit a number of years ago. Miss Loren didn’t play up her movie star and international celebrity status, but was just a woman candid about many subjects; fashion, marriage, motherhood, politics, religion and cinema. There was no hint of ego, just an underlying intelligence of a woman beneath the make-believe roles of a sensual screen goddess. It underlines her philosophy of working at the age of 86, “The body changes. The mind does not.”
In “The Life Ahead,”The actress blends comfortably and with conviction in her role. Senora Loren, complimenti per il lavoro svolto.
Review by Alex Reynolds