What becomes a legend most?
Well, in the case of the Oscar-winning 86-year-old Sophia Loren, a terrific role in the new Netflix movie “The Life Ahead,” which premiered on Nov. 13 to rave reviews. The film is also a valentine from her youngest son Edoardo Ponti who co-adapted and directed the drama based on Romain Gary’s 1975 novel “The Life Before Us.”
Loren plays Madame Rosa, a former prostitute and Holocaust survivor living in Naples who now takes care of children of prostitutes. But she has her hands full with her latest charge, a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant named Momo (Ibrahim Gueye). Rosa may seem like the ultimate earth foster mother, but she is haunted by fevered memories of her time at Auschwitz and more and more frequently drifts away from reality.
If the plotline of “The Life Ahead” sounds familiar, the Gary novel was originally adapted as “Madame Rosa,” an Oscar-winning 1977 French film starring the formidable Simone Signoret. Ponti has given the 45-year-novel a contemporary spin and moved the action from France to Italy.
Critics have been awed by her performance and the film is scoring an impressive score of 93% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. The L.A. Times’ Robert Abele declared it, “as something of a movie lover’s miracle, as if millions of sheltering classics-revisiting cineastes somehow will a cherished legend back into our gaze-thirsty sights.” He added that with “every line and look, Loren both reminds us of her legacy playing tenacious women and Rosa’s distinctive fire and grief like an artisan. It’s a compact master class in the movie star’s craft; exquisitely tailored glamour and deft characterization working seamlessly in tandem.”
Needless to say, there is a lot of awards’ buzz regarding Loren’s leading performance. She’d be the oldest Best Actress winner, eclipsing the record set by Jessica Tandy, who was 80 when she took home the the Academy Award 30 years ago for “Driving Miss Daisy.”
Ponti and Loren began their collaboration nearly 40 years ago when they played mother and son in the 1984 TV movie “Aurora.” He first directed her in the 2002 film “Between Strangers”; they both earned kudos for their 2014 short “The Human Voice” based on Jean Cocteau’s one-act play.
Loren made many Hollywood films including 1957’s “Houseboat,’ 1960’s “It Started in Naples,” 1966’s ‘’Arabesque,” 1995’s “Grumpier Old Men” and 2009’s “Nine,” which was her last feature film. But she had her greatest successes in Italian movies. Loren won the Oscar for Vittorio De Sica’s 1960 masterpiece “Two Women,” which was released in here in 1961, and earning Oscar nominations for De Sica’s 1964 “Marriage Italian Style” and Ettore Scola’s 1977 “A Special Day.”
Ponti, who is the son of the late producer Carlo Ponti, told Netflix that his mother is “much more engaged and present and she is able to get immediately a sense of all the nuances” in her own language. “She’s much more herself. I think that what happens when you live in a country that isn’t your own and speaking a language that isn’t your own, those become filters between you and the world. So, when all those filters are removed, she is completely unabashedly, brazenly herself.”
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