Reel Dad: 'The Life Ahead' showcases Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren stars in

Sophia Loren stars in "The Life Ahead."

Netflix / Contributed photo

To watch this actress is, simply, to experience greatness.

Each moment that Sophia Loren creates in “The Life Ahead” celebrates the beauty of time. Like the seasoned character the actress artfully portrays, Loren brings the wisdom that age can bring when the recipient welcomes the lessons. The actress displays both the confidence of a veteran and the enthusiasm of a novice as she shares a touching story about the surprising relationship between a boy and a much older lady. As Loren fills each situation with the shading and nuance that only an experienced actress can deliver, she reminds us why she has been a star for more than 70 years. At age 86, the actress is as extraordinary as when she first appeared on screen.

The Oscar winner returns to movies - for the first time in 11 years - in a made-to-order role that ideally captures her magic. As a retired prostitute now devoted to taking care of the children of local sex workers in a seaside city in Italy, Loren reveals the scar tissue she has formed over time while letting us discover the gentle heart she has protected for years. Such a nuanced approach could toss a less experienced actress who might be tempted to overplay the dramatics. But Loren has always been a subtle performer, never letting the chance to be dramatic undermine the demand to be authentic. With minimal dialogue and maximum expression, the actress invests a life of experience on and off screen to convey a life fully lived with a soul starving for more. The performance is brilliant and devastating.

The film’s story enables the actress to shine. When a boy needs a place to stay, the former Madame’s doctor asks her to offer a bed and a room. As the unlikely housemates begin to navigate the boundaries of their relationship - and bridge the decades of life that separate them - they soon realize the challenges of the arrangement. He wants to work the streets and fit into crowds in which he may not be welcome; she wants to hold on to what she cherishes in life while trying to forget the horrors from her past. Adding to the texture of the neighborhood, and the film, are influences expressed by a kind store owner and a neighborhood sex worker who see the potential in how one woman nearing the end of life can help a boy trying to find his path, as each wonder how damaged souls can begin to heal.

That a moviemaker would see the potential of the story and character is no surprise given the film was directed by Loren’s son, Edoardo Ponti. But this is not a child making a movie for a parent; Ponti’s insight into what his mother can accomplish as an actress fills every frame. The moviemaker knows what the actress can do with her eyes to convey a range of emotions as he lets his camera study how a wise woman reacts to people who enter and attempt to influence how she spends her days.

How lucky we are when an actress so accomplished willingly pushes herself to be more. Welcome back, Sophia Loren.

The Life Ahead

Content: High. This exploration of the many layers that a woman creates for her life offers Sophia Loren a rich role she welcomes with a breathtaking performance.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to the sensitive direction of Loren's son, Edoardo Ponti, the film captivates our hearts as it challenges our assumptions.

Message: High. How a collection of eccentric characters create an informal family reminds us how we secure strength from those who care for us.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn more about how people relate to each other, and react to their challenges, can be meaningful.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can prompt conversation between you and your older children about how people can help each other through tough moments.

“The Life Ahead” runs 1 hour and 34 minutes. The film is rated PG-13. It is showing on Netflix in Italian (with English subtitles) or (effectively) dubbed in English.