‘The Life Ahead’ showcases unlikely community bonds

The Netflix film starring Sophia Loren shows how accompaniment can help overcome trauma.
Arts & Culture

The Life Ahead

Directed by Edoardo Ponti (Netflix, 2020)

Set in the southern Italian port of Bari, Edoardo Ponti’s The Life Ahead weaves together the lives of marginalized people caring for one another. At the center of the story is Rosa (Sophia Loren), a retired prostitute earning money at the end of her life by babysitting other prostitutes’ children. Rosa first meets 12-year-old Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), a Senegalese orphan, when he mugs her in a busy market.

At the urging of their mutual acquaintance, Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri), Rosa and Momo begrudgingly become housemates. Momo haltingly adapts to his new life alongside two other boys in Rosa’s care. Rosa scolds and cajoles Momo to help with household chores. Momo mostly abides Rosa’s rules, aside from upgrading his petty criminal pursuits from theft to drug dealing. The hot, dusty, slightly ragged Bari where Rosa and Momo live is beautifully rendered. Their neighbors, Lola (Abril Zamora), a vivacious trans woman estranged from her family, and Mr. Hamil (Babak Karimi), a frustrated scholar forced to turn his bookstall into a convenience store, are fully realized characters rather than quickly sketched stereotypes.

Momo and Rosa cautiously come to respect each other and bond over shared experiences of trauma. Initially appalled by his dreams and hallucinations of a lioness, Rosa softens when she realizes they are Momo’s mechanism for coping with the brutal death of his mother. Momo may not know what “Housewitz”—as he calls it—is, but he knows enough to cover for Rosa when memories of her experiences during the Holocaust send her spiraling. Neither is overly sweet with the other, but their bond grows to the point where Rosa trusts Momo to take charge of her end-of-life care. It is not necessarily a happy ending, but it is one worth watching.

This article also appears in the June 2021 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 86, No. 6, pages 24-25). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.