The Life Ahead might not be getting the same attention as the other titles in Netflix’s award season stable, but it’s by far their most compelling release of 2020. What is it about this project that would get Sophia Loren to return to acting after a ten-year absence? For starters, her son Edoardo Ponti directs and assists in adapting The Life Ahead for the screen. Combine that with the character Madame Rosa being a beautiful older woman and an emotionally complex individual. There’s really only one actress who checks all the boxes for this role, and it’s Loren. The Life Ahead wouldn’t have nearly been a success had Ponti avoided casting his own mother in as the lead. The Academy award winner breathes life and vitality into Madame Rosa while subtly projecting the emotional trauma she experienced in her youth.
The Life Ahead is a tale of redemption and healing. Rosa (Loren) began her life on the streets as a prostitute and eventually retired so she could watch the other streetwalkers children. After a life of sinful acts, watching these kids as a chance at redemption. Rosa’s whole life has been one long game of staying alive, which started in a concentration camp and now has her struggling to survive financially. She only agrees to take in this troubled boy, momo (Ibrahima Gueye), because his previous caretaker offers to pay her handsomely to do so. Momo comes in hating the world and especially his new guardian. This slowly begins to change when he realizes that he has more in common with Rosa than he originally thought. For the first time in his life, Momo now has a family.
The film does pivot about halfway through when Rosa becomes quite sick. Momo does everything he can to help her through this but remember he’s still a child. Rosa’s efforts towards helping momo heal are her crowning achievement. Momo views Madame Rosa as salvation from a life of turmoil and a chance at having a real family. The tragedy in The Life Ahead is both are shortlived. Rosa’s condition worsens by the moment, and memories of this young man and even the loving family they formed are all but gone. Momo hasn’t come to terms with this and vows to get her through this by taking care of her, but even he knows his limitations. One of the more heartbreaking sequences is after he breaks Rosa out of the hospital; he pledges to help her but begs for help from a woman who now has become a mother figure to him.
Ibrahima Gueye is tremendous as Momo. The Life Ahead is his first feature film, and he goes toe to toe with one of the best actors of our generation. Sophia Loren’s performance in the film is glorious. Loren exudes such depth and heart in every scene. The Life Ahead all but erases Nine and gives Loren’s career the postscript it deserves. I hope that this isn’t the last role we see this iconic actor take on. While much has been made of Netflix’s dash for Oscar glory, The Life Ahead might be the most intriguing title of their entire slate. How they handle campaigning for the project will make or break their chances with this title. In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter as Sophia Loren’s performance is one of the five best performances this year.