A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Life Ahead is an Italian adaptation of French novel, The Life Before Us (1975) by Romain Gary. Switching Paris for the southern Italian town of Bari, director Edoardo Ponti's version stars his mother, the imperial Sophia Loren, and 12-year-old newcomer Ibrahima Gueye, both of whom are brilliant in their respective roles. Loren plays Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and former sex worker who now takes in and care of kids of other sex workers. When a doctor friend requests that she take in Momo (Gueye), the young boy who recently robbed her, she reluctantly agrees but soon forms an unlikely bond with him. Momo learns the power of love, compassion, and integrity. Through Momo's perspective (including voice over narration), The Life Ahead explores what orphanhood can feel like to a child when they lose their parents or family. In Momo's case, he has two paths on which he might travel further, one full of drugs, parties, and crime, the other full of people who have come to love him. Lots of references to sex work and drugs. A child finds a vibrator in a purse and thinks it's a toy. Plenty of scenes show Momo selling drugs to random people on the street. A few scenes show Momo underage drinking and being encouraged to drink by adults. Lots of smoking by adults and one scene with vaping. Momo gets jumped and kicked in the stomach; a half-fight between Momo and another child. Some usage of "s--t" and "damn."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In THE LIFE AHEAD, Sophia Loren plays Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor and former sex worker who now cares for the kids of other sex workers. Momo, an orphan from Senegal, stumbles into Rosa's life and her house of other kids. Momo initially resists, but eventually lets those around him help and start to love him. He takes up work at a local shop, spends more time with Rosa and the other kids, generally helps out, and slowly becomes part of the family. But Momo is tempted by the life of the streets and the sense of freedom it brings. Will Momo realize the endgame of drug dealing and crime or will Momo stay by Rosa as she begins to need him most? Spacing out and wandering off, often retreating to her underground recreation of her past, Rosa sometimes cannot recognize where or when she is. It's up to Momo to make sure she gets her last request.
Is it any good?
Featuring wonderful performances, this adaptation of a beloved classic finishes strongly despite following a quite standard narrative dramatic path. The emotional payoff of The Life Ahead hits because of the remarkable bond formed between Madame Rosa and Momo. Both could be strong role models despite their sex work and orphan-thief backgrounds, as both Momo and Rosa show great compassion for one another, make risky sacrifices for each other (Rosa taking in Momo and Momo fulfilling Rosa's last wish), and find places in their damaged hearts for each other's searching souls. There are subtler explorations of the effects of trauma here also, and Loren, Gueye, and director Edoardo Ponti handle them masterfully. The film makes a strong argument for the rehabilitative and restorative power of compassion and love.
Ponti also shoots his performers here compassionately and lovingly, which mirrors the primary theme of the film. Simply directed and shot, Ponti leans on sustained shots of faces and emotions, eager to capture any facial feature, nuance, mannerism, or particularity that might otherwise be missed with quicker cuts. This allows the performers to really sit in their acting and face their faces, if you will. Scenes become lessons in acting and in restrained and patient performance. Watching Gueye gush tears upon seeing Rosa in the hospital, Loren space out lost in some distant memory as Rosa, and Abril Zamora's Madame Lola contemplate meeting the father who abandoned her is a joy. It's a pleasure to see such time and love given to such dejected, tossed aside, and lost character types with nothing but love to give.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Life Ahead depicts orphanhood and family. How did Momo and the other orphans handle their living situations with Madame Rosa? How might they understand family differently?
What characters seemed in need of saving or redemption? Why? And were they saved or redeemed in the end?
What might have Momo learned most from Madame Rosa?
Was fulfilling Madame Rosa's last wish the right thing for Momo to do? Why or why not?
What did you think of the ending?
- On DVD or streaming: November 13, 2020
- Cast: Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Abril Zamora, Babak Karimi
- Director: Edoardo Ponti
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: Thematic content, drug material involving minors, some sexual material and language.
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
- Last updated: March 1, 2021
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