The Life Ahead
by director Edoardo Ponti
When I first read French author Romain Gary’s best-selling novel The Life Before Us, I immediately fell in love with the characters and the relationship that they have with one another. The Life Ahead, my film adaptation of Gary’s eponymous tale, tells the story of Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren), a Jewish former sex worker, who now looks after the children of immigrant women in her tiny apartment. She reluctantly accepts the charge of a Senegalese Muslim pre-teen troublemaker named Momo (Ibrahima Gueye).
What starts off as an explosively antagonistic relationship turns into an unexpected and heart-felt friendship. Rosa and Momo are two people separated by culture, race, religion and generation, and yet, they find a kinship with each other. These two souls are the opposite sides of the same coin, stumbling through life collecting pain and heartaches until they find in each other a common destiny that will change their lives forever.
In adapting this story, I chose to move the setting from Paris to the picturesque Italian coastal town of Bari. Through the irreverent eyes of Momo, we see the precocious, street-smart boy embark on a journey in the heart of Bari, which fosters prostitution, illegal immigration and crime in its labyrinth of alleyways. But it is also in this gritty neighborhood that this Muslim kid learns important life lessons from an aging Jewish woman who used to be a sex worker.
The Life Ahead is a modern and poignant tale of tolerance and inclusion. In a world where a vast majority of peoples flee their birthplaces to seek refuge and safety elsewhere, each immigrant and refugee’s journey and outcome is unique: some find disillusionment and despair while others discover hope and peace. The most common outcome is the evolving definitions of home and family, which are challenged and revisited time and time again in our film. Thus, our young Senegalese immigrant learns that home is not simply the place where you were born, but the one that accepts you unconditionally; and family is not simply the group of people who have given you life, but those who have given meaning to your life.
I’m thrilled that thanks to Netflix the film will be available all over the world. But the theatrical experience has always been an essential ingredient to Italian cinema. For so many, my mother's work—and mine—has lived on the big screen. I’m very grateful to Landmark for continuing that narrative today, particularly in a time when, due to the circumstances of a global pandemic, the opportunity to see a film in the theater has become even rarer and more cherished.
All in all, The Life Ahead speaks to our common universality and our shared mission: to love and be loved.