With time on my hands and nowhere to go, I watch Netflix, which Vergel sets up for me certain afternoons, before he leaves for his tennis. Netflix comes after planning menus and cooking and, occasionally, shopping for needs online.
“A Life Ahead” is my cup of tea, not only because it was nominated for this year’s Golden Globe’s best foreign film and best screenplay, but because it stars Sophia Loren, an idol of my generation.
She plays Rosa, an aging Holocaust survivor who finds herself left to care for children of prostitutes—she is herself an ex-prostitute.
One day she is robbed on the street by Momo, a 12-year-old immigrant from Senegal, an angry and dangerously rebellious boy played, like a real pro, by Ibrahima Gueye.
Momo’s father killed his mother after she had refused to continue prostituting for him. He ends up in Rosa’s care, not the with the social services. The young actor’s portrayal is so powerfully authentic, his emotions so credibly raw, it’s no wonder he, too, has been nominated, for best supporting actor.
In time, with mutual tolerance and trust, a bond develops between guardian and ward, which tugs at my own heart—a familiar magical connection that skips a generation between grandmother and grandchild, something any lola knows.
These days I look for comfort and sentimental satisfaction where I can find it. I can sympathize with familiar movie stars, goddesses of my time, suffering the same common fate of mortals like me who have gotten old with them.
Loren, 87, has lost most of her earthy appeal; a hint of her compelling cleavage is the closest evocation of the past. Facial beauty was never a main asset, anyway. Her nose has become hawkish; her lips, too inflated to pass our era’s standards of beauty, seem, on the other hand, to have lost too much air to satisfy today’s standards.
In her time, she was too tall at 5’8 1/2”—for that matter, certainly too tall for pudgy husband Carlo Ponti. Indeed, her height, as in the case of not a few other leading ladies, created problems for shorter leading men. In one of her movies (“Boy on a Dolphin”), a path had to be dug deep enough to adjust her height to make Alan Ladd look taller as she walked beside him—he preferred that trick to standing on a box himself. Ladd claimed he was 5’9”, but has been listed as 5’6”.
Anyway, Loren is ever the complete movie star, with real talent to boot. In “A Life Ahead” we are once again treated to that powerful and controlled performance of hers. She is, in fact, superb; one moment her character reveals a steely strength, the next a subtle tenderness, all achieved by a mere lowering of her eyes or the gentle touch of her hand.
Young people who never saw her in her prime might even think her unattractive, facially. But those of us who have witnessed her at her peak tend to look at her with kinder eyes, the way we perhaps look at ourselves in the mirror and everyone else who has grown old along with us.
Watching her now, I am seeing beyond the physical, the more valuable realms where she has a great wealth to give. The appreciation is somehow also increased by the fact atypical among movie stars: She married only once and raised two boys well.
Escape to the past
Writes one reviewer: “Watching her in ‘A Life Ahead,’ shuffling through her apartment in a loose kimono, long gray hair flowing behind her, still elegant, still beautiful, but now old and frail, is to allow us the space to contemplate our memories of her in the past, while leaving plenty of room to celebrate who she is now.”
I guess, in the same way, I grew to love and appreciate my grandparents and my parents more as they got older, factoring in a whole, rich history that adds value to the present.
To be sure, I’ve not become blind to the ravages of time and sun, as in the case of the perfect outdoor male specimen, Robert Redford. But since I saw him at his handsomest, as with Loren, memory can play tricks on predisposed loving eyes.
That is not to say my vision is not weakening, but somehow I still recognize good acting and would not settle for less, from anyone. I can see more than what’s in front of me, and I’d like to think I’m older but wiser—happier, too. It’s all about good memories.
I must admit that, locked in during the pandemic I find myself wanting to escape to the past, and, thanks to the likes of Loren and Redford, they still give us the best of our past in the present, despite their ages. INQ