Review: ‘The Life Ahead’ is a showcase for Sophia Loren and newcomer Ibrahima Gueye

It would be easy for the story of an ageing former prostitute who looks after the children of other prostitutes, and who forms a bond with a young Senegalese boy, to be a little too saccharine. In the hands of a lesser director, or a with a lesser cast, that might certainly be the case. As it stands the film toes that line but doesn’t cross it, thanks largely to Sophia Loren and young star Ibrahima Gueye.

Ibrahima Gueye plays Momo, a Senegalese child alone on the streets of Bari. Loren plays Rosa, a holocaust survivor with a makeshift daycare business. Momo is mixed up with the wrong people; Rosa is loving but aged and cranky. When Momo comes to be in the care of Rosa, an unlikely bond is formed.

This odd couple setup is nothing new, but when you pair a veteran with the skill and empathy of Loren and a newcomer with the raw acting instincts of Gueye, you still end up with something that feels different and unique. The marketing for this film will tell you that this is Sophia Loren’s return to film after years away, and she is excellent, but the film actually belongs to Gueye. It is, after all, Momo’s story, and Gueye’s performance is the kind that will make you want to pay attention to his career from here out.

This is only the second time that Loren has collaborated with her son, director Edoardo Ponti, and perhaps it is his superpower that he could cast her in this film, but between his eye and her talent, they have crafted something more than the sum of its parts, and something well worth your time.

The Life Ahead premieres on Netflix worldwide on November 13th.