Audrey Kupferberg: The Life Ahead | WAMC

Audrey Kupferberg: The Life Ahead

Nov 30, 2020

Credit WAMC

It would take half this radio piece to explain all the awards that Sophia Loren has received over the decades.  Her film career in Italy and Hollywood blossomed in the 1950s when producer Carlo Ponti changed her name from Scicolone to Loren and redesigned her career.  They married in 1957.

In 1961, she became the first actor to win an Oscar for starring in a foreign-language film.  The movie was Two Women.  After that, she made Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Marriage Italian Style, and A Special Day before taking more time with her family beginning in the late 1970s.  No matter how diverse her roles, she always displayed a unique kind of beauty and a life force that gave energy to her performances.

Now in her late eighties, Sophia Loren is starring in a new film, The Life Ahead, which is showing simultaneously in select theaters and streaming on Netflix. The Life Ahead is based on a 1975 novel by Romain Gary, and directed and co-scripted by her son Edoardo Ponti.  This is Loren’s third collaboration with Edoardo.  In 2002 they made Between Strangers, and in 2014 they made a short film called Human Voice based on a play by Jean Cocteau.  It’s been more than a decade since she appeared in a feature film.

In The Life Ahead, Loren plays an elderly Jewish woman, Madame Rosa, a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor who makes a scant living tending other people’s children in a Southern Italian seaside town.  When she takes responsibility for a twelve-year-old Senegalese Muslim immigrant orphan, a plot of sorts begins to unfold.  The boy, Momo, prefers a criminal career to school, but is a good boy at heart.  They first meet when he steals her Shabbat candlesticks, which she plans to sell in order to pay the rent.  Madame Rosa’s life is far from easy, she spends time huddled in a dank cellar room which seems like a safe place to her, and she lives with memories of horrific medical experiments at Auschwitz. 

If the plot seems familiar, that is because the French film Madame Rosa from 1977, starring Simone Signoret, is based on the same novel.

It’s a pleasure to see Sophia Loren in a new film.  Her performance is understated yet sensitive.  The other actors, including Ibrahima Gueye as Momo, give more than adequate performances. Still, The Life Ahead is no more than a fair entertainment.  It seems underwritten, written in broad strokes; there is little complexity to the screenplay.  The interplay between Muslims and Jews in the community is interesting, and there even is a transgender character, but all-in-all the story of the film is pedestrian.

I imagine that most viewers will be more interested in seeing what Sophia Loren looks like at this advanced age, rather than taking an interest in the drama itself.  Those viewers will not be disappointed.  She has retained her distinctive beauty.  The facial features have aged but are matchless.  She has her own natural style. 

One wonders if Loren would still be appearing in films without the cooperation of her son.  That leads me to ponder the recent work of other grand dames of film and TV who have passed the age of eighty and most of whom continue to work.  Jane Fonda, Judi Dench, Shirley MacLaine, Maggie Smith, Rita Moreno, Carol Burnett, Ellen Burstyn… and Cicely Tyson and Angela Lansbury both of whom passed 95 this year!  Plus Betty White at age 98!

There was a time when female stars were retired from successful careers, often against their wills, in their late thirties.  Whose terrible decision was that?  The fact that there are so many more seniors—of various genders and sexual inclinations-- actively appearing in films, stage plays, and in TV today also means that topics that explore the experiences of the elderly, subjects which were considered of little or no interest to audiences a few years ago, now are seen as box office silver and gold.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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