In her first feature film since “Nine” in 2009, screen legend Sophia Loren plays a Holocaust survivor who takes in motherless children in “The Life Ahead,” directed and co-written by her son Edoardo Ponti. Shot in her native Italian, it’s Ponti’s third collaboration with his mother, following “Between Strangers” in 2002 and the short film “Human Voice” in 2014.
In the story, based on Romain Gary’s novel “The Life Before Us,” Loren portrays Madame Rosa, a Jewish woman and former sex worker who opens her tiny apartment in Bari to the children of prostitutes, either orphaned or abandoned. Her latest charge is Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a Senegalese Muslim pre-teen orphan who has survived on the streets by stealing and dealing drugs. The film follows their unlikely relationship, one that’s contentious at first but grows as they connect and bond over mutual pain and heartache.
Loren was drawn to the character when she read Gary’s novel. “I’m always on a quest to find beautiful stories to tell,” she said. “When you stumble on such an amazing character like Madame Rosa, coming from such a famous book by the beloved Romain Gary, honestly, it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to pass up. There’s an irresistibility to inhabiting a character that is so strong. But also, I think the character’s combination of irreverent vitality and fragility reminded me a bit of my own mother.”
As for working with Ponti, “It’s demanding working with my son because he always wants me to hit notes that he knows I can hit, but they’re tough notes to hit,” Loren said. “And yet, we both know that if I can go there, we’ll go to a very, very special place together. And I trust him, of course. I think that if a director looks at an actor behind the camera with true love, true commitment to what they’re doing, the actor can do anything.”
Although the movie is getting a limited theatrical release, “I am thrilled that this film is being shown on Netflix and that it will be available all over the world at the same time,” Loren said. “I’m so grateful for Netflix bringing this movie to audiences in such a passionate way.”
“The Life Ahead” opens in select theaters on Nov. 6 and begins streaming on Netflix Nov. 13.