What is the story about?
Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor, finds her life intertwining with that of Momo, a young, wayward Senegalese orphan who comes into her care, even as she starts succumbing to dementia and PTSD.
Honestly speaking, Netflix could have branded this film with an alternative title—“The Return of Sophia Loren”. To be fair to director Edoardo Ponti, it is impossible to be objective in directing a film like this, especially when your lead actress, who is supposed to represent vulnerability and dignity in the face of all odds, also happens to be your mother in real life. Ponti’s screenplay, which is an adaptation of Romain Gary’s The Life Before Us, has enough meat to make a competent story, and in his own mother Loren, Ponti finds the perfect figure. Coming back to the screen after a long hiatus, Loren discards her movie-star persona and lends quiet dignity to the figure of Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who has problems of her own. She is powerful and believable in every scene that she is in, and it is difficult to watch her as Madame Rosa slowly wither away with time. This is the sort of role that could only be performed by a senior actress, and Loren takes this opportunity with both arms.
Unfortunately for both Ponti and Loren, the film sometimes becomes too enamoured of Loren’s persona for its own good. Nothing new is added to this adaptation of Gary’s novel. As a result, this film becomes an exercise in weepy sentimentality after a point. You know that Madame Rosa’s steely exterior will slip away and she will be vulnerable. You also know that Momo, the wayward orphan, will discover his good side and be a source of support to Madame Rosa. Instead of aiming higher, this film is very content being a middling arthouse film. And that is a huge disservice to its leading lady.
Since the entire film revolves around Madame Rosa, it is indisputable that Sophia Loren is the star of this film. In her first major role in over a decade, she chews up every scene that she is in, lending Madame Rosa an air of heartrending dignity. As the gruff orphan Momo, Ibrahim Gueye is also very good. The rest of the cast are strictly okay, with Abril Zamora in notable form as the cheerful transgender neighbour Lola.
Music & Other Departments
Angus Hudson’s cinematography is eye-filling and captures the radiance of Loren as she goes about spreading kindness. Gabriel Yared’s score cranks up the melodrama unfolding on screen.
The episodes where Madame Rosa’s physical frailties are on display are difficult to watch with dry eyes.
The film gets too predictable after a point, with its perfunctory dissections of the Arab-Israeli conflict appearing forced.
Did I enjoy it?
I’d gladly watch anything with Loren in it, but the rest of the film is too clichéd and predictable after a point.
Do I recommend it?
It’s good enough for a one-time watch. Keeping a handkerchief is strongly advised. But Loren deserves a better film.