A Film Review: Sophia at 86 is just Marvelous 

I recently came across an interview of Sophia Loren and her son Edoardo Ponti, a filmmaker much like his father and who recently cast his mom in a film that piqued my curiosity.  During the interview at the age of 86, Sophia was both enchanting and captivating.  At her age, she still evoked a presence of confidence and sensuousness that immediately reminded you of her films as a young starlet.  No doubt in my mind that I had to see this movie featured on Netflix.

Since February is the month of love (not just the 14th), I thought reviewing this wonderful film would explain how love has no one definition.  We all know that love is both complex and varied, never as simple as we like it to be or understood. Loving a person, a child, even a four-legged creature brings both pain and joy and pretty much shapes who we are as we journey into life.

The film  ” A Life Ahead” is about a journey of love. I absolutely loved everything about it…the scenery, the music, the language (Italian) and more importantly the story.  Let me warn you (spoiler alert) that I  will give away some of the storylines. I have to otherwise, I could not explain why I chose to write this story.

The story is about a holocaust survivor Madame Rose (Sophia Loren), a former prostitute who now babysits children of working girls. Struggling to make ends me and about to sell her antique candlesticks when a 12-year-old African boy from Senegal named Momo robs her only to wind up in her care. Her doctor, who is caring for the boy and whose mother was his patient needs help and convinces her reluctance with money until a home for him can be found.

The relationship is a bit stormy in the beginning as she realizes how headstrong and willful this child is. He is street-smart and quickly gains the confidence of a dealer to sell drugs. Madame Rose recognizes that the child needs other supports and persuades Hamil, an Arab merchant, to hire Momo as a helper. There are now four persons in this child’s life with the fifth one being Lola, a transgender prostitute whose baby is being cared for by Madame Rose. One day Momo follows Madame Rose to a small room in the cellar, a refuge where she feels safe from her haunting memories of the holocaust and where they slowly begin to connect. Momo also has vivid memories of his mother and is haunted by her death with dreams of a lioness that wants to maul him. As he settled in this new caring home, the lioness is no longer a threat and has become a playmate in his dreams. I thought the filmmaker’s symbolism of these two characters struggling with their past was important in understanding how much they needed each other.

As the bond between both of them grows, Momo begins to experience episodes of Madame Rose’s growing dementia and fear of hospitals. She asks of this child a promise not to leave her in the hospital. A promise that certainly was beyond his capabilities, yet her trust and love gave him the strength and resourcefulness to carry it through. Madame Rose was not the only person in Momo’s life. Hamil became a father figure and his connection with Lola and her child was part of his newly formed nontraditional family.  His determination to keep his promise meant ending his relationship with the dealer. In the end, he fulfills his promise to keep her safe knowing that her time was closing in. The film ends with what lies ahead for this child as he offers his last goodbye to her and to the lioness and joins what is now his new-founded family. He is not again left alone, as Madame Rose, in her own fortuitous way, made sure of that and is why the title of the film is so fitting — A Life Ahead.    The chemistry between  Sophia as Madame Rose and Momo is spell-bounding with so many touching moments of love, trust, and hope.  The boy actor, Ibrahima Gueye, is indescribably adorable with smiles and tears that pull at your heartstrings.  At 86, Sophia excels, and it saddened me to think that this may be her last film.

  Lastly, this story is about the love that can come from strangers who through acceptance manage to create non-conventional family relationships.   All societies have generally overlooked the impact of nontraditional families and how they shape future generations. They fail to recognize that love is about acceptance. It’s not about a society’s definition of what a family unit should be.   I walked away from this film more convinced than ever that love is universal and cannot be solely defined in any  one way.  Every day there are new nonconventional family units formed by the circumstances brought onto their lives and the humanity of others.    Maya Angelou best describes this as  “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination”.   Go watch this film!