Love Among the Ruins: ‘The Road Ahead’ and ‘Nomadland’

by on February 22, 2021 · 1 comment

in Ocean Beach

Sophia Loren

By Colleen O’Connor

Unable to travel?  Unhappy about sheltering in place?  Depressed about our blue planet’s future; aging; or just in a funk about the enormity of change and loss.

Fret not.  There is a remedy close at hand.  In fact, two of them; both contenders for big acting awards; directing awards; foreign film and storytelling awards.

Think about it.  A dreadful 2020 year producing two marvelous films (both based on books) with two great, older actresses.

The stories confront generational and cultural sufferings without sentimentality and hardly any make-up.

The first, The Life Ahead, starring 86-year-old, Sophia Loren, (where she plays the lead as Madame Rosa) has already won the San Diego Film Critics Society “Best International Film” award, and the Capri Hollywood International Film Festival nod for Best Actress.

Oscar nominations and award decisions are still pending; delayed due to the pandemic.

At age 86, Sophia Loren has already collected five Golden Globes, 10 Donatellos, one BAFTA, one Grammy, two Oscars, not to mention multiple lifetime achievement awards.

Remember, in 1962 Loren won the first Oscar ever awarded to an actress in a foreign-language  film, where she beat out Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Yet, even among her more than 100 films, several Lifetime Achievement Awards and 80-plus acting nods as a winner or nominee, The Life Ahead, may be Loren’s finest performance.

She came out of a 10-year retirement for the performance. Why? Because her son, Edoardo Ponti, directed it; her mother’s memory prompted it; and she identified with the story of Madame Rosa.

Loren, herself, acknowledged,

“I was immediately struck by how certain aspects of Madame Rosa’s character reminded me of my own mother.  Just like Madame Rosa, my mother had this combination of resilience and fragility, of moments of high drama but always seen through the lens of irony.

“She was also rather tough and irreverent on the outside, but quite a softy in the inside. I miss her every day.”

Frances McDormand

As Ponti noted, “It’s not the awards that motivate [my mother], but the power of storytelling itself.”

And Loren hunts for the good in humans.

“Once the heart is touched, it is hard to look away from a problem,” Loren says. “Your heart nudges you again and again to do something about it, roll up your sleeves and get involved in some way.”

The Life Ahead checked all those boxes.

Madame Rosa, an aging, Holocaust survivor and former prostitute, is battling dementia while running an ad hoc daycare/boarding house for hookers’ children.

According to the Netflix introduction, she “forms an unlikely friendship with a bitter, 12-year old Senegalese orphan (Momo) when she takes him in after he robs her.”

Set in Bari, in the heel of the Italian boot, The Life Ahead explores those “left behind” lives, and their fierce personalities that get knitted together among the ruins of inner-city life.

The second great film, with another great actress, Frances McDormand, playing Fern is Nomadland.

McDormand has already won two Academy Awards and the film just grabbed the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film festival; the first film ever to score both wins.

Best described by Vox, as “an aching portrait of wandering people in a country that’s abandoned them.”

“It’s a piercing look into a country that’s becoming less and less inhabitable for its older men and women, and more stingy about who gets to dream. Fundamentally, it’s a poignant portrait of a broken heart.”

“It’s a true eulogy, a lament for the dead, a yearning for the lost. There’s no hint of sentimentality in Fern or in Nomadland — only a need to remember and to keep living.

“But you can detect a hint of anger in the film at a country that…treats its working-class senior citizens like “workhorses,” urged to labor hard, then simply used up and put out to pasture.

They meet up in the California desert, work seasonal jobs at Amazon; pack potatoes or clean toilets in the National Park.  And they share their stories; their trade secrets for safe parking spots overnight; how to fix a flat tire; find water, grab a temporary job and avoid harassment.

Yet, among the ruins, both films elevate a quiet love for others.  For prostitutes, orphans, transvestites, and demented seniors in The Path Ahead.  And for “houseless” transient adults caught in the wake of a post-2008 recession.  Distressed vagabonds living in their vans or trucks.

Each story tells of real, not imagined, people.  Of real, not pretend, existences.

And display real love among the ruins of 2020.


Nomadland began streaming on Hulu last Friday.  (Free 30 day trial subscription available). Nomadland, the book by journalist, Jessica Bruder, is now available in paperback.

The Life Ahead is available on Netflix. The Life Ahead is based on the The Life Before Us by Romain Gary. It won the Prix Goncourt prize in 1975.




{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gravitas February 26, 2021 at 9:29 am

1977 version of Madame Rosa (The Life Ahead) with Simone Signoret one You Tube with subtitles. Quite good and even more radical for its time.


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