Ultimately, Ponti’s film survives on the one surprise that’s not much of a surprise at all: the power and majesty of his lead actress. And how did the director score such a casting coup? You’d have to ask his mother ... Sophia Loren.
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With its tough-minded characters from divergent cultures finding a common bond despite their differences, the film doesn’t deliver much in the way of surprises, but it turns out to be a starker and more honest piece of work than it might initially seem.
Slipping into the flavorful Neapolitan accent of her early years, Loren creates a warm-blooded, grounded character, whose feistiness ebbs slowly as the ravages of age, ill health and painful memory take hold. It's a lovely performance, full of pathos, from an esteemed actress whose wealth of experience illuminates this touching human drama.
The Life Ahead is compelling enough to make the by-the-numbers narrative worth telling, if only because with such fine-tuned performances at its center, it deserves to be told.
The film, modest and often maudlin on its own storytelling terms, runs on a current of beyond-the-screen devotion that makes it compelling. Without that unquantifiable x-factor presence in the frame, it’s hard to say what reason this Netflix release would really have for being.
The actress is absolute bliss in her new Italian drama, The Life Ahead.
Get out your handkerchiefs. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren, 86, returns to the screen after a decade to play a Holocaust survivor who raises the children of prostitutes. There is not a single false note in Loren’s magnificent performance. Just sit back and behold.
While it is unabashedly sentimental and at times goes over the top with the symbolic melodramatic devices, it is a beautifully shot and heartwarming film, and the 86-year-old Loren is magnificent and regal and fierce and funny and beautiful and screen-commanding throughout.
Pairing Loren up with a child with this much spark, acting-up and acting-out, proves to be a winning formula for the film.
Ponti fills this adaptation of the Romain Gary novel with an abundance of empathy, illustrating how all of us are nursing invisible psychic wounds, but the execution is so gauzy it never quite connects.