PG-13, but that might be a pretty intense PG-13. I mean, the movie is about both children being trafficked to sell drugs and about prostitution. It's not like the film plays up the sexuality of these situations, but the kids are constantly aware of the sex work going on around them. It's a pretty bleak movie throughout and it doesn't help that the protagonist has the most terrible life ever. But PG-13 is PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Edoardo Ponti
You know that I'm close to having seen all of the Academy Awards when I'm just writing about a movie that is nominated for Best Original Song. That's its only nomination. The song isn't even integral to the film, which is a beef that my wife has with this category by the way. I literally could have just YouTubed the song and then made an assessment. But I know me. I have met me. It feels like the song, in isolation, isn't exactly what I'm judging. But because I'm not going to be talking about the song here, I'll just tell you it is fine and forgettable. What I'm really interested is talking about the unique experience of seeing a remake without knowing that the original existed.
Apparently, Italy hates this movie. That's what my wife told me. They all think that this movie is a real stinker. Me? I was flabbergasted. I mean, I'm probably not going to go out on a limb and say that this movie changed my life. But it is a better than fine movie. My biggest criticism (on a sleepy Monday morning) is that it is a bit sappier than I normally like my movies. But in terms of quality and acting, the movie kind crushes. So why do people hate this movie while I like it? I've basically already stated. The Life Ahead apparently is the third adaptation of a book where the other adaptations are considered kind of sacred. Can I throw stones at this? Probably not. I know that I saw a trailer for Steven Spielberg's West Side Story during the Oscars last night and thought that looked awesome, but I also don't really adore West Side Story. But I can imagine if someone decided to remake Casablanca or Citizen Kane, I might be skeptical about how necessary that adaptation would be, considering that the originals still hold quite a bit of water. But by itself, The Life Ahead really works. I'm almost a little afraid to watch the original versions. I honestly probably won't seek them out, which feels very un-me. The only thing I really could gain is a disrespect for the version I watched.
But the story of Momo is one that reminds me that the world is both a terrible and a beautiful place. From an aesthetic perspective, Ponti has shown this version of Italy that we've come to expect. Even amidst the poverty that these characters are surrounded with, there is a rich culture. And that setting mirrors the personality of Madame Rosa. Rosa is this almost elemental figure in the movie. She is the centerpiece. Perhaps I gravitate to her so much because she is played by Sophia Loren, who absolutely crushes it with this film. But the setting is symbolic of who Rosa is. It is simple and basic, but it it stable. It isn't ever this life of luxury. And Momo, despite the tough love, receives a sense of deep acceptance from Madame Rosa. As much as she is angry at Momo for his behavior, she's more mad at what the world made of Momo. And we, as the audience, don't always have the opportunity to see that. We follow Momo, not Rosa, through the story. While I found myself shouting at the screen for his poor behavior, I understood that Momo was bred, not born, to be the way he is. And Rosa understands that.
It's because she is Momo. She was a prostitute who has taken it upon herself to care for other prostitutes. She sees how malleable and easily influenced children are and adjusts her behavior to that. But the irony is that she is the one who has never truly healed. Her secret basement hideaway is Momo's room. As her vulnerabilities become more and more apparent in her fugue states, that place shows that, as much as Madame Rosa is a caretaker for Momo, she is more of a peer at times. It's odd to think that Momo is the one who steps up in her fugue states as well. When Rosa comes across as confident and powerful, he fights her tooth and nail. But it is only when he sees that façade disappear, he becomes the Momo we want him to be. As tragic as the whole story is, it is also a powerhouse.
I've never seen a movie that has made the antagonist so appealing. He's never sympathetic. I really want to make that decision. But I can see how Momo can gravitate to someone like Spacciatore. Spacciatore is this guy who makes drug dealing look fun. As much as Madame Rosa is a mother figure, she kind of comes across as the worrisome grandmother at times. But Spacciatore is the fun dad. He's the guy who has Momo sell drugs, but is constantly about affirmation. He threatens him not with violence, but with an end to stardom. There's a scene where cinema has taught me to believe that Momo was going to get attacked. Nothing. It's uncomfortable, sure. But Spacciatore goes for Momo's sense of belonging more than anything else. It's so odd how psychology works. It all makes perfect sense, although it seems paradoxical. Momo has a place that would service to be his family. But as long as he is there and everything is working out fine, he hates the notion of these people infringing on his sense of freedom. During adversity, he's perfectly fine. It's only in the trauma that he finds value. On the other hand, he's basically isolated from people his age with the drug dealing family. He's invited to party with Spacciatore and that's what he really wants. It's a major step for him to distance himself from this world because he's losing out on his sense of self.
It's a gorgeous movie. It really is. I mean, I try not to get too sappy with my films. But the movie absolutely hits on the levels it was supposed to. I'm a little bummed that I watched it during Oscar season because it forces me to be rushing past it while comparing it to the other films. But it does the job. I wish it, at least, got a Best Foreign Language credit.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.