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‘The Life Ahead’ reveals the power of connection, change

“The Life Ahead” (“La vita davanti a sé”)(2020). Cast: Sophia Loren, Ibrahima Gueye, Renato Carpentieri, Iosif Diego Pirvu, Massimiliano Rossi, Abril Zamora, Babak Karimi, Malich Cissé, Simone Surico, Costanta Fana Pirvu. Director: Edoardo Ponti. Screenplay: Edoardo Ponti, Ugo Chiti and Fabio Natale. Book: Romain Gary, The Life Before Us (La vie devant soi). Web site. Trailer.

Creating the life we want can prove challenging. The same can be said for creating the life we need, but, given the nature of these circumstances, we often feel motivated to work toward achieving it more diligently. And, in the process, we frequently find that the effort is more than worth it, providing us with benefits beyond what we dreamed possible. So it is for a seemingly unlikely duo in the heartwarming new Italian domestic drama, “The Life Ahead” (“La vita davanti a sé”).

When Italian social services are charged with finding a home for 12-year-old Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), an orphaned Senegalese immigrant living on the streets of the seacoast city of Bari, officials place him in the care of an aging physician, Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri). It’s a responsibility that the kindly old doctor is not really up to handling, in large part because of Momo’s unwillingness to give up the unruly ways he relied upon while living on the streets. As someone who’d grown accustomed to getting by on his wits, Momo didn’t hesitate to resort to petty crime and other questionable behavior to survive, habits he refuses to give up even after he’s been given a supposedly stable home life. He still steals from unsuspecting innocents and associates with an assortment of thugs and hoodlums, such as Nala (Malich Cissé), a teenage counterpart, and Ruspa (Massimiliano Rossi), a Fagin-esque hood who recruits street kids as partners in drug dealing and other nefarious activities.

Because he’s unable to instill the kinds of positive values that he believes Momo needs to live a good and upstanding life, Dr. Coen decides it’s best to find a new home for his young charge. However, he also realizes it may take considerable time to go through official channels, a move that would undoubtedly relegate Momo to inadequate state facilities in the interim. So, as an alternative, he seeks the assistance of an old friend, Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), to see if she can care for Momo until a new permanent home is found.

Why Madame Rosa? It’s because Dr. Coen believes she possesses the qualities needed to raise the undisciplined youth. The Auschwitz survivor who later became a lady of the evening has lived a hard and challenging life, experiences that have enabled her to become a survivor. At the same time, though, she also developed a strong nurturing streak, one that emerged after giving up her days of turning tricks by becoming an impromptu caretaker of children born to fellow prostitutes. This combination of traits has thus provided her with the means to successfully care for at-risk children who have been shoved off to the side and need love – often of the tough variety – to survive.

When Dr. Coen approaches Madame Rosa with his proposal, she initially turns him down. She’s already a full-time caretaker for Iosif (Iosif Diego Pirvu), the young son of a street colleague (Costanta Fana Pirvu), and a daytime babysitter for Babu (Simone Surico), the toddler of her downstairs transsexual neighbor, Lola (Abril Zamora). She believes the last thing she needs is another youngster to care for, let alone one who has behavioral issues. It doesn’t help that she’s also one of Momo’s crime victims. But, when Dr. Coen pleads his case that this is only a temporary arrangement, Madame Rosa reluctantly relents and agrees to take in the boy.

Given Momo’s temperament, things don’t get off to a good start with Madame Rosa. Realizing this, she knows she can’t clamp down too hard too fast, so she cuts him some slack. But she also knows that he can’t get away with whatever he wants, so that’s when her signature tough love kicks in. And, remarkably, she soon starts to get results with Momo – at least to a point.

While Momo doesn’t give up his street ways overnight (as seen by his continuing involvement with Nala and Ruspa), he nevertheless begins altering his behavior in other ways, most notably in his relationship with Madame Rosa. As she begins showing signs of age-related mental health issues, for example, Momo displays an uncharacteristic degree of compassion previously unseen. A genuine warmth develops between them, and the qualities that Dr. Coen had hoped would emerge indeed begin to surface. But, considering the nature of the changing circumstances in their relationship, what does the future hold? Will Momo and Madame Rosa be adequately prepared for the life ahead?

It’s always comforting when what we need just happens to come along just when we need it. We often attribute such happenings to a stroke of good luck, divine intervention or fate smiling upon us. However, given the perfectly tailored nature of these solutions, one can’t help but think that there’s something more to their appearance than some kind of nebulous supernatural intervention. It’s as if a wish specifically suited to our needs drops in our lap for use in attending to whatever challenges we face. And, in light of that, one can’t help but think that we must somehow play a part in that manifestation’s sudden arrival.

The sense that we’re somehow involved in this process is anything but far-fetched. In fact, it’s integral to the operation of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in materializing the reality we experience. And, because of that, it follows that what manifests in our existence stems from such origins.

This is true for all of us, whether or not we recognize the process or our involvement in it. We often develop a proficiency in conscious creation practices without realizing it. Yet that aptitude often works in our favor, enabling us to create what we need when we need it. And that’s certainly true where Momo and Madame Rosa are concerned.

Momo needs someone who can teach him discipline but without tying his hands; as an orphan, he still faces challenges ahead and must know how to care for himself under conditions that are often less than perfect, conditions that make Madame Rosa a perfect mentor for him. Likewise, Momo’s aging caretaker needs someone who can help look after her without infringing too heavily upon her steely sense of independence; Momo fills that bill by providing heartfelt comfort and compassion without crowding Madame Rosa’s valued sense of self.

Madame Rosa also realizes that Momo needs strong parental figures in his life. She handily fulfills the motherly role; as for a father figure, she solicits the support of a neighborhood shopkeeper, Hamil (Babak Karimi). In seeking out Hamil’s assistance, Madame Rosa not only provides Momo with a paternal influence, but she also secures the help of someone who can guide the youngster spiritually. Given her Jewish heritage, Madame Rosa is unable to usher Momo through the teachings and customs of his native Islam, but Hamil can certainly fill that void for him. Hamil also provides work for Momo, a gesture aimed at helping wean him off of the negative influences of Nala and Ruspa.

The bottom line in all this is that it creates a much-needed bond between Momo and those who are trying to help him out. It provides a sense of connection that has long been missing in his life, something that he hasn’t always openly admitted to needing, wanting or desiring. However, once he gets a taste of it, he begins to see what’s been lacking. It even prompts him at one point to confess how much he misses the family members that he barely knew – especially the love and support they gave him, even if he didn’t fully appreciate its importance at the time. Another want fulfilled through the conscious creation process.

The most significant development to come from all this is that it changes the nature of the existence that Momo and Madame Rosa experience. Considering where each of them begins at the start of the film, this change represents an enormously beneficial shift in their respective realities. It may not be perfect, and new challenges may lie ahead, but they’re better off from where they were. That’s important for all of us to bear in mind when we seek to forge a better existence for ourselves, and all it takes is a new set of beliefs. As their experience shows, it sure beats the alternative.

Though occasionally somewhat predictable and formulaic, this touching tale shines brilliantly thanks to its outstanding performances and the palpable chemistry of its superb ensemble cast members. As a streetwise, tough-loving mother figure, screen veteran Loren (in her first feature film role in 10 years) provides a perfect counterpart to newcomer Gueye. Director Edoardo Ponti (Loren’s son) serves up a fine effort in his third feature outing, one worthy of the considerable awards buzz it has been generating, especially for his leading lady’s stellar portrayal. The story here may seem a little familiar at times, but its execution more than makes up for that, with the 87-year-old Loren adding yet another memorable performance to her storied career. Keep the hankies handy for this one, too. The film is available for streaming online.

It’s been said that, in times of need, “The Universe provides,” sage words in my experience. However, I’ve also found that the process tends to function more effectively (and often more quickly) when we do our part to help it along, giving our divine provider some insight and guidance into what we believe we need. When we hone our beliefs and make our intents clear, we frequently find that what we need shows up when we need it. And that can go a long way toward helping to prepare us for the life ahead.

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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