It’s been some years since Sophia Loren appeared in a movie (2014’s short film Human Voice was her last outing) and this remake of 1977’s Madame Rosa is an interesting choice for her return to a full length feature. The fact that both films are directed by her son, Edoardo Ponti, may explain her presence here but, rest assured, this is more than just an example of cinematic nepotism. The Life Ahead is eminently watchable.
Loren plays Madame Rosa, a former prostitute who has turned her attention to looking after the children of her younger colleagues, in order to make ends meet. When Rosa’s friend, Dr Coen (Renato Carpentieri), asks her to take in lawless young Senegalese orphan, Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), she’s understandably reluctant – Momo has already mugged her for a set of candlesticks in the local marketplace. But Coen’s pleading – plus the offer of 750 euros per month – is enough to bring her around to the idea.
Momo is clearly not going to be easy to win over. Since the death of his mother, he’s been determined to make his own way in the world, by any means possible, even if it involves dealing drugs for local kingpin, Ruspa (Massimiliano Rossi). Madame Rosa, meanwhile, has her own ghosts from the past to contend with and, as she and Momo begin to discover more about each other, so an uneasy alliance develops…
Ponti also co-wrote the screenplay and coaxes a good performance from his mother, though it’s really young Gueye who is the standout here, easily conveying Momo’s endearing mix of recklessness and vulnerability. Sequences involving an imaginary lioness are also nicely depicted, as is the developing relationship between Momo and local shopkeeper, Hamil (Babak Karimi). If the story’s conclusion is a tad sentimental, it’s no matter – the film holds my attention right up to the final frame and it’s lovely to see Loren back in action after so long.
And, given the right opportunities, Gueye could have a brilliant future.