Friday, November 13, 2020

La vita davanti a sé

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Young Senegalese immigrant Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) snatches two antique candelabras from an unsuspecting passerby at a flea market so he can get good money selling them at the black market. Unfortunately, his attempt to hide the goods is foiled by Dr. Cohen (Renato Carpentieri), his guardian. It so happens that the good doctor knows the owner of the stolen candle holders who is none other than his patient, aging Holocaust survivor and ex-prostitute Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren). He asks her a favor in exchange for giving her stuff back: Take Momo in so he can live with a mother figure who could put his life back on track. Hesitant, she agrees and introduces him to two other children whom she is taking care of and also residing in her humble abode while their mothers are busy making a living. Personalities clash, but the two eventually form an unlikely bond which will change his life for the better.

Oh wow, that was poignant. Uh oh, I guess I am getting old. It is one of those films that explore the dynamics between two human beings and how they can influence one another to rediscover what life is all about. The plot is linear except for the intro which renders the rest of the story a flashback unfolding in the span of six months prior to actual events. That opening sequence does not suggest a happy ending but keeps you intrigued enough as the backstory capitalizes on the evolution of the relationship between the two main characters, as well as those who surround them.

Gueye holds his own against a decorated film veteran in his first cinematic outing. As the story’s troublemaker, he embodies the rough life waiting for immigrants in countries that are divided by the touchy issue of immigration. His life story serves as a mirror of European society unsure whether to embrace or shun it; whether to adjust to what is being dictated by challenges of  modern times or to conserve the traditional. The boy has potential and is lucky to have had his acting debut side by side with Loren.

Directed by her own son, Loren makes a triumphant comeback to cinema and reminds you how she became the first ever to win an acting Oscar for a non-English performance. She sort of attempted a Hollywood comeback with the film adaptation of the musical Nine a decade ago, but that film was kind of lambasted by both critics as well as its very own box office performance. Here, the role is far from flashy, deglamorized in fact, which allows the emotional punch of the story to hit its audience where it should.

Now let’s spare a paragraph to reflect on new Academy Awards records to be set should Loren clinch an acting nomination. It’s been 55 years since she was last nominated for Marriage Italian Style, meaning she would best Henry Fonda’s record of 41 years of waiting in between nominations for The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and On Golden Pond in 1981, the latter of which he won. At 86, she would also become the oldest ever to be nominated for Best Actress, older than Emmanuelle Riva by a year who was 85 when she was nominated for Amour in 2012. Winning would make her the oldest victor in the category, five years older than Jessica Tandy who was 81 when she won Best Actress for Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Records and potential nominations aside, the proof is already in the pudding. Despite not seeing this film on the big screen, whatever emotion it is trying to convey transcends your Netflix screen convincingly. Perhaps it has something do to with Loren being in her element not just because of the material’s language which is her own, but also thanks to Edoardo Ponti directing. After all, who else would know better how to elicit the appropriate emotions from her other than her very own son, right? No one would blame you if you end up bursting into sobs once you get to that penultimate scene.

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