Oscar-winning actress Sophia Loren is back in front of the camera for her first feature film in a decade, directed by her son Edoardo Ponti in a movie in which she plays Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant boy named Momo.
The film, titled “La vita davanti a sé” (“The Life Ahead”), is an adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel “La vie devant soi,” which was previously adapted for the big screen by Israeli filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi as “Madame Rosa,” starring Simone Signoret. That film won the 1978 foreign-language Oscar.
Loren, 84, plays the same role as Signoret, though Ponti said the two adaptations are very different. The film has begun shooting in Italy. Loren, who is working 10-hour days, said she is allowing herself to “express things on screen in a way that I think audiences will find very surprising.”
She added that her son wouldn’t settle for anything but her best. “He knows me so well. He knows every inch of my face, my heart, my soul. He will only move on to the next shot when I hit my deepest truth,” she said.
Ponti, who is directing his illustrious mother for the third time, declared her to be in great form.
“At 84 she wants to put it all on the line to make a movie that is so deep, so challenging, both emotionally and physically,” he said. “The energy and passion with which she approaches every scene is a marvel to watch.”
The rest of the cast comprises transgender Spanish actress Abril Zamora (“Locked Up”), Italy’s Renato Carpentieri (“Tenderness”) Iran’s Babak Karimi (“The Salesman”) and non-professional child actor Ibrahima Gueye, who plays Momo.
While Mizrahi’s work is told through the point of view of Madame Rosa, “our movie follows the point of view of the book, which is Momo,” Ponti said. The film is set in the present in the southern Italian port city of Bari and works on different levels, said Ponti.
The first is the story of love and friendship between Madame Rosa and Momo, two people who could not be more different “culturally, generationally, racially, religiously,” Ponti said. “And yet they are cut from the same cloth of pain and having been brought up in the streets.”
The second level is that it’s “the story of a modern family,” Ponti added.
Madame Rosa is a Holocaust survivor and the head of this family. “Her three children essentially are a 35-year-old transgender [woman], a 12-year-old Senegalese street kid, and a 10-year-old Romanian street kid.”
Then there is the political level, “which is almost unnecessary to bring up…because it is baked into every frame,” Ponti said, but it’s not explicit. “It’s best for us to focus on the characters, to focus on the emotions…and then it’s up to the audience to talk about the politics behind them.”
The plan is for “Life Ahead,” which is produced by Italy’s Palomar with some equity financing from U.S. investors, to be ready in March 2020.