A twelve-year-old orphan named Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) continually gets into trouble between robbing and hustling on the streets. His doctor carer is at his wit's end and begs Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) to take the child in as the only other option is social services. A former prostitute, Madame Rosa now cares for their children. Though their relationship is initially combative, as time passes, Momo and Madame Rosa grow fond of one another.
Edoardo Ponti, the son of Sophia Loren, is the director of 'The Life Ahead'. It hardly comes across as a surprise for the movie is directed in such a way as to reflect tenderness and compassion, a son expressing his love for his mother. Well acted and written (screenwriter Ugo Chiti's past credits include 'Gomorrah' and 'Tale of Tales'), you're immediately drawn into the story and world of these lively characters.
Key to the film is the chemistry between, and marvellous performances from, Loren and newcomer Gueye. They make for excellent on screen rivals, eventually developing into a makeshift family. Madame Rosa is stubborn and sharp, infuriated and intolerant to Momo's hooliganism. She insists "he's rotten to the core", and is concerned about how he scuffles with the other boys in her house. But after getting Momo a job to keep him from stealing and dealing, he softens, and so does she. They bond in her private basement, a safe space, and he notices a tattoo of a number on her arm, though never understanding the full extent of what it means to be a Holocaust survivor.
Momo can be an absolute brat, saying and doing nasty things. But you feel for the character, because he's young and naive, and has been through much. Gueye is terrific in the role, determined to put on a face of resilience but carrying so much inside. Loren is just a star through and through, but he holds his own opposite her. Another notable performance comes from Abril Zamora as a trans prostitute. A scene where she dances with the Madame is one of the film's many heartfelt moments.
'The Life Ahead' is sweet and full of feeling. It's a story about hopefulness amidst tragedy, and is wholly enveloping for its 94 minute running length. It is both interesting and impressive to see Netflix now distributing these kind of movies. Here's hoping we'll see more foreign language heartwarming crowd pleasers, with their so-called "one-inch barrier" of subtitles hopefully not putting audiences off.
'The Life Ahead' is streaming on Netflix now.