The Life Ahead

(1.5 *) A Sophia Loren swan song? It’s a mess.

Oscar Nominations:

Original Song (“lo Si (Seen)”:Warren/Pausini)

The Life Ahead is both mercifully short and, yet, not quite long enough.  Let me explain.

At just 94 minutes, the biggest problem with this film is that the story just doesn’t connect – the holes are certainly bigger than the whole.  This is an Italian movie filmed and set, presumably, in Puglia Italy.  Madame Rosa is a holocaust survivor (we learn that from the serial number on her arm) who generally lives by providing family situations for children born of prostitute mothers.  An aging Italian doctor, who is a good friend, engages Rosa to take on responsibility for a pre-adolescent young Black boy, Momo, who is without parents and has learned to survive in a life of crime.  And Rosa finds something of an employment situation for Momo with a Muslim shopkeeper. Needless to say, there are both huge differences and subtle similarities between all these important people.  But, despite the huge scope, the movie never goes beyond a very narrow focus.

And the problem with this movie has to ultimately fall with the two artistic leaders – the writer and the director.  The screenplay, based on a novel by Lithuanian Romain Gary, is adapted by Ugo Chiti, an art director and costume designer.  Now, I’m not quite sure what his main roles have to say about his credentials as a writer – he has written screenplays for several other films – but I don’t think it helped him here.  Yes, we have a mix of a Jew, a Muslim, a Black – and there is a transgender Mother who also plays a supporting role – which, all by itself, suggests just thousands of possibilities.  But this movie doesn’t explore hardly any of them!  Frankly, the setup MIGHT be something to be dealt with in a multi-episode TV series, but this is really much too big for a movie format.

And so, what the viewer gets is a disjointed exploration of multiple ideas that don’t go anywhere and don’t resolve.  We never really understand, for example, why the doctor decides to get Madama Rosa to accept Momo as one of her charges.  Nor is the scene where the Muslim shopkeeper agrees to employ Momo very convincing. We have no insight as to why Rosa places so much responsibility on Momo.  And, in perhaps the worst ‘what just happened’ moment, we really don’t get why Momo accepts responsibility for Rosa – the critical turning point in the movie.  In short, this film reaches much higher than its intrinsic strengths can grasp – it would have to have been a much longer film to fully explore these important ideas

But it does have some strengths.  

Sophia Loren plays Madame Rosa.  She hasn’t been in a feature film since 2010, so seeing her, at age 86, is a real treat.  Loren was the first actor to receive an Acting Oscar for a foreign language film (La Ciociata (1960)) and she was also nominated for her leading role in Marriage Italian Style (64).  She has always been one of the most beautiful women on the planet and her reappearance in this film is, indeed, welcome.

And yes, it was nominated for Original Song “Lo Si (Seen)”).  The song is wonderful.  Diane Warren composed the song and she has been nominated a dozen times for songs dating back to 1987, but she has never won an Oscar. Laura Pausini sings the song with an incredible interpretation.  Although I don’t know her other music, she has a terrific voice.  But, if you’ve followed my posts, I really dislike it when the ‘Original Song’ is only heard in the credits.  In this movie they get around it by starting the song about ten seconds before the credits roll.  Still, regardless of how well the song fits the movie, if it doesn’t fit somewhere inside the tale, then I don’t think it should be nominated – the credits are for the ‘money’ side of the film, not the meaningful part.

So despite Loren’s obvious confidence, she can’t carry a story that just doesn’t pull the threads together.  In some ways, this film seems like it was designed as a swan song for Loren.  The director is Eduardo Ponti who is, actually, her son.  Now I want the reader to think about how well you would receive direction from one of your children!  Do you think that could go well?  Regardless of the intentions behind this movie the setup is wrong.  I can understand an attempt to give Ms. Loren a way to say goodbye to her adoring public.  But, really, maybe something a little more modest would have gone a much longer way!

Available only on Netflix

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