Dir; Edoardo Ponti. Starring; Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Abril Zamora. PG-13. Color. 94 min.
While the standard adjectives when it comes to praise are certainly applicable here, “The Life Ahead” boils down to the simple concept in its title. We all have to face that inevitability in various stages of being human, but perhaps grade school kids have a bit more in common with the elderly than we think when it comes to “The Life Ahead”.
Legendary actress Sophia Loren came out of retirement to star in a film directed by her son Edoardo Ponti. She plays an elderly woman and former prostitute known as Madame Rosa that takes in orphans who are a product of that underworld in Italy. Her close friend Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri) has his hands full with a kid that goes by Momo. Feeling as though the kid needs a strong female presence in his life, Dr. Coen pays Rosa to take Momo in.
Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) is one hell of an undertaking when you are talking about a kid. He is fighting with another kid within minutes of being at Madame Rosa’s house and sneaks off to pick up drugs to sell for the local drug czar (Massimilliano Rossi). The connection between the two main characters is also quite interesting as Momo mugged Rosa at an outdoor market the day before, taking pieces of antique furniture she had anticipated to sell in hopes of paying rent. But the two souls begin to realize how close they are in terms of trauma.
An immigrant from Senegal who came to the country at the age of three, Momo’s mother, a prostitute, died in some sort of tragic event. Rosa, a jewish woman, has numbers on her arm and a locked up basement area that is the only place she feels comfortable. A kid without a mother and an old lady who survived the Holocaust have to find a common ground despite driving each other insane.
Rosa does her best to steer Momo in the right direction by getting him a job at a local store run by the immensely kind Hamil (Babak Karimi). Positive things are happening in the young boy’s life. There are also positive things happening in the drug world as he is selling drugs like gangbusters and making money that looks like a fortune to a ten-year-old.
Then you have the transgender hooker living downstairs in the building named Lola (Abril Zamora). Already in an uncomfortable setting, Momo is hesitantly curious with this flamboyant street walker who wants to do nothing but dance. Lola, a former boxer before hitting the sex change game, has her child there staying with Rosa because her source of income is not exactly perfect for a child being around. Yet Momo gravitates towards the happiness and sees that this crazy group is exactly what he could use as there is far more positive support than the gangsters claiming that they are his family.
In its final act, “The Life Ahead” is tragic, but in a way that uplifts you. The ongoing mantra of Lions, a figure of the Quran meaning power, comes full circle with Momo’s imaginary friend being a lioness. The journey of an elderly woman having gone through Auschwitz and spending time as a hooker being able to simply help a troubled young boy who is also bringing her peace shows how life is centered around moments we must not take for granted. Everyone has trauma and guilt. “The Life Ahead” is a tale of two humans on opposite ends of the spectrum helping each other attempt to heal.