Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) was an old woman who took under her care children from mothers who could not take care of them, like Iosif and Babu. One day, her friend Dr. Coen (Renato Carpentieri) requested her to take on the care of a strong-willed 12-year old Muslim orphan boy from Senegal named Mohamed, nicknamed Momo (Ibrahima Gueye), and she reluctantly accepted for some additional cash.
Rosa asked her friend Hamil (Babak Karimi) to help her instill some discipline by letting him help in his store. But unknown to her, Momo was secretly dealing for local drug lord Ruspa (Massimiliano Rossi). Momo eventually warmed up and began to get more attached to Rosa, Hamil as well as their transgender neighbor Lola (Abril Zamora). However, Rosa's mental faculties was slowly being eroded by dementia.
The screenplay of this film was adapted from the novel "The Life Before Us" by Romain Gary. It was co-written and directed by Eduardo Ponti as a potent acting showcase for his mother, the one and only Sophia Loren.
As the world-weary Madame Rosa, Loren was absolute the main reason to watch this film. Her mega-wattage screen presence totally dominated the scene whenever she was on. Her Madame Rosa may have been old, exhausted, and of steadily deteriorating mind and body, but one cannot deny how Loren shone through all that. She can transcend the infirmity of her character and the poverty of her surroundings and burn Madame Rosa's plight into her audience's hearts with a mere glance or sigh.
As the untamed urchin Momo, Ibrahima Gueye played a challenging role for a child actor. Momo was street-smart and fiercely independent young man on the outside, but inside he was an abandoned child yearning to be loved. His dreams of a loving lioness guardian would seem to attest to this inner need. These transitions were rather abrupt and unpredictable in the course of this movie, which was a cause of much uncomfortable tension. His turning point best moment was that quiet scene with Madame Rosa after Iosif was claimed by his mother, a naturally effortless tear-jerking moment.
The tone and pacing of the film can be uneven and not too easy to watch for everyone. However, those touching moments of tenderness and transformation between Momo and Madame Rosa made the whole film worth watching. At 86 years of age, Loren still possessed that incandescent screen magnetism and fluent mastery of her craft to command our attention and admiration. An Oscar nomination for Best Actress is inevitable.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."