If you’re like me, The Life Ahead just might take you by surprise.
La vita davanti a sé (its Italian title), directed by Edoardo Ponti (son of Sophia Loren), has stayed with me. When I finished watching it I thought it was a solid film with a great up close and personal performance by the extraordinary Sophia Loren (now in her late 80s) and the young Ibrahima Gueye (whose eyes are a marvel). My initial thoughts were that the story could have had a more pronounced and dramatic arc and faster pacing. But I was glad that I had watched it even though I didn’t think it was Oscar Best Picture material in the Best Picture category (though I’m cheering for Sophia Loren for Best Actress).
Days later, I was still thinking about it, and I found myself watching clips from key scenes again and again. THEN, I watched the video of Italian singer Laura Pausini singing the theme song, “Io Sì” with a rich cross-section of women’s faces opening their mouths and letting Laura’s voice come through. I understood about seventy percent of the lyrics, so I got the gist of the song (I’ve since memorized the words and the translation). I began to understand why this movie has become increasingly resonant with me: Being there for our fellow world citizens of all colors and texture is a precious gift and probably more important than anything else.
A synopsis of The Life Ahead.
Sophia Loren plays Madam Rosa, a former prostitute, and a Holocaust survivor. She takes kids of prostitutes into her home for foster care. Reluctantly, she takes in a Momò, a young Muslim boy who has just snatched her purse on the street. Momò sells drugs (quite successfully) for an opportunistic drug lord. It’s the only thing he knows to do to create some sort of independence for himself. Madame Rosa’s initial resistance to this stubborn young boy yields and we see that she is a deeply caring woman even though she has been emotionally scarred by her past. She invests herself in Momò and he grows fond and attached to Madame Rosa. They form an important bond as her health takes a more foreboding turn. Momò cares for Madame Rosa and we see him change and open up his heart.
This movie is set in Bari, on the east coast of Italy, and in a community of people who have little and who have lived particularly challenging lives.
This Life Ahead shines against the backdrop of today’s world.
That’s why this movie hits home for me. In today’s world, there’s so much nationalism and populism. There are so many “me first” mentalities. And there are plentiful anti-immigration sentiments (loads here in Italy, too). People are ranked by class, education, looks, and worth. It’s far too easy (and tempting) to put oneself above others and be immune to the plights and struggles of so many of the world’s citizens. Do we value the currency of love and caring for our fellow man or woman as being of supreme importance—far above material possessions?
The movie’s theme song “Io Sì” brought me to tears.
It just won the Golden Globe for Best Song, and it’s a strong contender for Best Song at the Oscars this year. I’ve embedded the video here, and below you’ll find the translation into English. I’m a big believer in strengthening one’s Italian language skills by memorizing (and singing along with) Italian songs. Laura Pausini also has recorded The Life Ahead’s theme song in English, but the lyrics have been changed to fit the melody. “Io Sì” literally means, “Me Yes,” but Italians understand this as saying, “I do.” The English title is “Seen.” Yes, it’s still a powerful message, but I don’t think it holds the same resonance and power as the Italian translation. I encourage you to explore and decide for yourself.
“Sto qui” and “Sono qui.”
You’ll find both refrains in this song, and at face value, you might think both simply mean, “I’m here.” “Sto qui,” literally means, “I stay here.” I liken it to saying that someone is solidly planted in front of you. “Sono qui,” which does literally means “I’m here,” comes almost as a promise, a punctuation point after the previous “Sto qui” refrains. It’s almost like saying, “I’m not going anywhere.” This is what I love about the Italian language: how its subtleties add poetry and power.
Another Italian convention that I particularly like in this song is the placement of “Io.” Consider the line, “Non lo so io.” It means “I don’t know,” but the placement of “I” is at the end of the line. Most English speakers struggle with this construction since there is no English structural equivalent. For me, the placement at the end really underscores the “I” as the one who doesn’t understand. It’s almost like a confession.