Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Original Title: La vita davanti a sé
Italy, 2020. Palomar. Screenplay by Ugo Chiti, Fabio Natale, Edoardo Ponti, based on the novel by Romain Gary. Cinematography by Angus Hudson. Produced by Carlo Degli Esposti, Regina K. Scully, Nicola Serra, Lynda Weinman. Music by Gabriel Yared. Production Design by Maurizio Sabatini. Costume Design by Ursula Patzak. Film Editing by Jacopo Quadri. Academy Awards 2020. Golden Globe Awards 2020.
Appearing in a feature film for the first time since Rob Marshall’s Nine, Sophia Loren stars in this remake of Moshé Mizrahi’s Oscar-winning 1977 film Madame Rosa, based on the novel by Romain Gary. She plays a retired sex worker who makes the odd buck taking care of the children of others in her profession, but draws the line when her doctor friend brings over young Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) and asks her to put him up for a few months. Aging, fatigued and very angry at the boy for having that same day tried to rob her in the market, Madame Rosa has no interest in sharing an apartment with him but, offered a good deal of money to do so, she relents. The child, meanwhile, is streetwise and jaded, orphaned after his mother brought him to Italy from Senegal and then died when he was just a toddler. He accepts his new digs because he has just begun to work for the neighbourhood drug dealer, who tells him that his living situation is ideal for his job. Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti, directs this film as little more than an excuse to show off the prowess that his mother still possesses on screen, and given that we are talking about one of the greatest and most powerful legends in cinema history, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this as primary motivation. It’s a shame, though, that the movie doesn’t meet her standard of integrity, nor of her fellow castmates. Gueye is electrifying as Momo, giving the character a convincing, fiery resentment for the way life has treated him that makes the moments when he softens up genuinely moving, and because Loren’s character is equally, if not more so, jaded, and at some point is not even able to give him that much more than life has already taken away, the film avoids the kind of White Saviour territory you might be worried its falling into. Unfortunately, while Ponti gets a tough and energetic performance out of his mom, he is otherwise focused on delivering a comforting and comfortable experience, there is a determined avoidance of dramatic conflict that takes away much of the film’s ability to really hit hard (being a drug dealer is a job you can just quit, apparently). It’s not without moments that burn deep, Loren telling Momo that it’s just as well that he doesn’t know what the word Auschwitz means is maybe the best two-seconds of acting of the entire year, but the rest of it is formulaic and only minimally inspiring.