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‘The Life Ahead’ shows at DPAC

| Friday, October 8, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

“The Life Ahead,” screened at Debartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) this Thursday, presented by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies as part of their film series, follows 12-year-old orphan Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) and his relationship with his dying caregiver Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute who takes care of unhoused children. 

Directed by Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren’s son, the film is based on the French novel “The Life Before Us.” The film follows a remarkable hero’s journey, as Momo navigates losing his mother, drug-dealing, status, faith, belonging, and found family. 

When Momo first meets Rosa, it is under rather unusual circumstances — one fateful day, Momo is loitering at a market in Bari, Italy (where the film is set), seeking an opportunity to rob an unsuspecting victim. He sees Rosa, and the young thief snatches her bag of antiques in hopes of pawning them off for money with the help of drug dealer Rupsa (Massimiliano Rossi). When Momo’s caretaker Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri) discovers what Momo has done and to whom, Coen makes Momo return the candlesticks and apologize to Madame Rosa in-person.

In a brief turn of events, Momo is sent to live with Madame Rosa, as Coen feels he is no longer fit to take care of him. Initially angry and bitter, Momo picks fights with Losif (Losif Diego Pirvu), an undocumented child living with Rosa, and ignores the youngest child, Babu (Simone Surico). He curses, and he deals drugs — we as viewers are worried for Momo throughout the film, as he is tempted and led astray by the promise of community and status he finds working with Ruspa. 

However, as the film progresses, we see Momo’s hard exterior soften, as we learn about the “tragedy” that led to his mother’s passing and his attachment to the lioness as a symbol of his mother’s protection, love, and strength. He has visions of the lioness coming to him like a guardian angel and licking him, and he draws lions in his free time. These moments of child-like wonder directly contrast scenes of Momo selling drugs and having very intense and “adult” moments. 

Furthermore, his interpersonal relationships with Madame Rosa develop when he uncovers her identity as a Jewish Holocaust survivor. They both seem to understand each other and their needs, whether it be Rosa’s need for tranquility in her dark basement hideout, or Momo’s need for belonging and a maternal figure. 

The secondary characters are also developed well, from Lola (Abril Zamora), Babu’s beautiful dancing mother and Rosa’s good friend, to Hamil (Babak Karimi), the store clerk who is one of the first characters to take a genuine interest in Momo and his story. 

The story ends with a death, but also another visit from a lioness, which was a great way to close the film and signal to the viewer that no matter what, Momo is protected. 

Overall, the film was beautifully crafted and emotionally intense. It was not fast-paced per se, but it never dragged on; the cinematography was beautiful, from the skylines and sunsets of Bari to the overall mood lighting (for example, the golden light pouring into the room the day Momo met Lola, compared to the dark green light cast on some of the scenes with the drug-dealer). I recommend this film to anyone in need of a good tear-jerker and anyone interested in exploring more international films. 

To those who did not attend the screening of the movie at DPAC, “The Life Ahead” is available to stream exclusively on Netflix.

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