UPDATED with video: Director and co-writer Edoardo Ponti brought along his mother for my conversation about his movie, Netflix’s The Life Ahead, as part of Deadline’s Contenders International awards-season event. That mother happens to be a true screen legend, Sophia Loren, who has been directed by her son (their third collaboration) in her first major leading role in a movie in several years.
Ponti and Loren have been wanting to do this particular film for some time, both fans of the original book.
“Ever since I was a teenager I loved Romain Gary’s novel; I found the story of friendship and love between Madame Rosa and 12-year-old Momo two persons that everything separates – race, religion, culture – and yet they are people who are both sides of the same coin,” Ponti says. “They have been raised without family and have been defined by suffering, but more importantly by hope and resilience and that really touched me.”
He adds adding that it was a special moment to do the Italian-language film with a true icon of Italian and world cinema.
“I love working with my mother who happens to be an amazing actress. And what I love most of all is to present her in a way that I see her,” Ponti says. “To be able to present her to the world through my eyes, to give people the most authentic complete version of Sophia, and not the Sophia, the icon who spells her name with a ‘ph,’ but rather the Sofia, the mother, the woman, the actress, the artist who spells her name with an ‘f’.”
As for Loren, the role as Madame Rosa — a dying woman who takes care of the kids of women with whom she once walked the streets of the Italian town of Bari — it was irresistible to lure her back to the screen. “I thought it was something very close to my way with feelings and emotions,” she says. “This is what really touched me about Madame Rosa. She was full of life but at the same time she had problems with the world and everything else. She was always surrounded by very young children and she always looked like she was maybe not so keen about them. But If she hadn’t had them around her she would have died much sooner than she did.”
Ponti says he can’t think of another star he would rather direct. “In my life if I could only work with one actress I would work with my mother again and again and again. Not only has she given me life, she has given me beautiful work in my films, and it is just a joy to work with somebody I can not only call my mother but also my friend and professional partner,” he says.
Loren, now in her eight decade in movies after starting as an extra in the early 1950s, wouldn’t have it any other way and says she still gets nervous and is fine with that.
“I get nervous if I don’t get nervous,” she says, laughing. “I love what I do. I love the stories. I was born on a set, I was always on a set so if I am not on a set I don’t what to do.”
Check out the panel video above.