The critics love The Life Ahead (94% Rotten Tomatoes) and the viewers like it (7.0/10 IMDb). As for me, I can take it or leave it, preferably the latter. Overall, it is just too sad and melancholy for my taste. Of course, the critics sing the praises of the return of Sofia Loren, international superstar from years gone past. Yet, in character, I found her too one-note. Suffering from a heart condition and a lack of oxygen to the brain, Madame Rosa justifiably has little range. Mostly, she is curmudgeonly with a little befuddlement added.
The Life Ahead pairs the elderly, former Holocaust and street walker survivor with a Senegalese Muslim orphan. They take an instant dislike to each other. Persuaded to care for him at the rate of 750 Euros per month, they form an uneasy relationship. Since a child formerly under Madame Rosa’s care is now the police chief, a drug dealer thinks Momo’s new living arrangements may be beneficial to business. Will Madame Rosa be able to re-direct the ways of a street-wise dope peddler? I give The Life Ahead 3.0 Gavels.
A recent immigrant, Momo’s mother wishes to quit the life of a prostitute. His father kills her and Momo is an orphan by age six. Dr. Coen can no longer care for the boy. He turns to Madame Rosa who cares for children of other prostitutes. Since Momo stole her purse in the marketplace, Madame Rosa is in no mood to raise a thief. She tries to foist him off on Hamil, a local Muslim merchant. Getting used to a home life, Momo begins to note Madame Rosa’s failing health. Roles begin to change.
The real star of the film is young Ibrahima Gueye, in his first major picture as Momo. Madame Rosa’s life is at an end; The Life Ahead belongs to Momo. Which path will he choose? Not making it easy, his drug boss tells him “you don’t think you deserve the respect you’ve earned. If you leave, we’re done.”
“I want to go back when nothing was written,” laments Momo. He is learning that life doesn’t give do-overs. Rather, “nature does what it wants, without rhyme or reason.” At a young age, Momo becomes fatalistic.
The San Francisco Chronicle saw the same movie I did. “We go in thinking we’re about to see a Sophia Loren movie, but instead we get an obnoxious kid, with Loren occasionally stumbling into and out of the frame with a vacant expression on her face.” On the other hand, The Chicago Sun-Times writes “under her son’s direction, Loren is fierce and funny…the 86-year-old commands the screen…” Funny how we see things differently, isn’t it?